Posted in Apologetics, Doctrine, Evolution, Logic/Philosophy, Metaphysics

Could God Create (ex nihilo) on the First Day?

[Note: The following article was written several months ago and recently made its public literary appearance in the Fall 2020 issue of “Sufficient Evidence,” the bi-annual apologetics journal of the Warren Christian Apologetics Center in Parkersburg, West Virginia. We appreciate the interest in the article by our good friends, Charles Pugh and Terry Varner, and their desire to publish it.]

In Genesis 1:1 we find these words, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Now we know that the Hebrew word used for “created” is “bara” and can entail ex nihilo creation. According to the Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, it is not always used that way, but the word itself does entail that possible use which, no doubt, it must have in Genesis 1:1. In Genesis 1:27 the word “bara” is used for the creation of man whose existence clearly came from already existing dust (Genesis 2:7) and rib (Genesis 2:21-22) and from Holy Spirit (Malachi 2:15; Hebrews 12:9). Now notice that in Genesis 2:3 the same word “bara” is used for something other than or in addition to what we face in Genesis 1:1. Consider Genesis 2:1-3: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”

Now, the word “created” in 2:3 covers all that is entailed in the finished work of God. Verse 2 shows that he ended his work that he had “made” (not the word “bara” but “asah”). While “asah” can refer to creation as such, “The basic meaning…is ‘do’ or ‘make’ in a general sense” (ibid., p. 1626). So, God finished the creation, at least as provided in the description given in Genesis 1:2ff.

Years ago, our brethren did not make an issue of the age or alleged age of the earth. In fact, there was a certain obscurity in Moses’ account that most of us realized from the way that Moses wrote. Some prominent preachers were quite clear in their definite conclusion that the Bible is indefinite regarding the age of the earth. In a most excellent article entitled “Questions of Chronology” that appeared in the February 22, 1962 issue of Gospel Advocate, Guy N. Woods affirmed, “(1) The inspired text contains no data on which the events of Genesis 1 may be dated” and “(2) It is not necessary to assume that the earth and man were created at or near the same time” (p. 122). Thirty years later (1992) my father (Roy C. Deaver) published his commentary, ROMANS—God’s Plan For Man’s Righteousness, and in it he wrote, “How much ‘time’ (as men view time) elapsed between the original creation and the renovation (the work of the six days) no one can say with certainty” (p. 167). Both Woods and my father gave elaboration that I will not here insert, but both of them were convinced that regarding the age of the earth, we simply do not know and cannot say because the Bible does not reveal that information to us. I can remember years ago hearing brother Woods saying to my father that these preachers that are trying to prove that the earth is a very young earth are painting themselves into a corner. And I can remember that my father received some criticism of his commentary for inserting the truth regarding the non-knowability of the time of the creation in Genesis 1:1.

And yet, with the passing of more time, it seems that some among us have become quite emboldened in their attempt to claim that a young earth can be proven, and that it must be proven, and that those of us who are informed must know and claim that the earth created in “the beginning” (Genesis 1:1) has only existed for a few thousand years.

Let me say just here that it is my opinion that much of this push among some preachers and other brethren in claiming certitude with regard to a young earth is an overreaction to a social condition or cultural situation. Some seem to think that since Darwinian evolution requires a tremendous amount of time in order to satisfy the requirements for the evolutionary theory, we must in response to that false theory whittle down the time. To me, it is comparable to what the church did years ago in its response to Pentecostalism. In order to react properly to the false claim of modern miracles, some brethren went to the extreme and equally false position that the Holy Spirit does nothing (other than what he does in his word). Now, to respond to a false view that seemingly requires billions of years for enough time support, some of us have gone to the other extreme and claim that the Bible teaches that there is not sufficient time for the evolutionary theory because it can be proven that the earth is, in fact, quite young. It needs to be understood that Darwinian evolution cannot be proven even if we were to allow the evolutionists trillions and trillions of years in which to weave their web. Evolution cannot be established by the allowance of a great amount of time or of more time in addition to the first amount allowed or by the addition of more time after that, etc., etc. Time is simply not the issue! Some things are not possible in the nature of things, and the theoretical creation of more time to allow possibility doesn’t help if possibility is not a possibility! Given all the time conceivable, absolutely nothing cannot give existence to something, a man cannot become God, and life cannot be derived from non-life.

Now, be that as it may, let us be clear about motivation and position. There is a difference between (1) the motivation for or the reason why someone takes a view and (2) the evidence used in support of the view. So, regardless why some of us believe we must stand for a young earth in order to meet the threat of evolution, the claim to prove a young earth must stand or fall on its own. Of course, both camps (those who favor an old earth and those who favor a young earth) are trying to be faithful to God. But we certainly do not need to judge the faithfulness of a brother on the basis of which view on this issue he takes. If Moses wrote so that we can know that a young earth is what we have, then so be it. And if Moses wrote so that we cannot know that a young earth is what we have, so be it. But if Moses did not reveal the approximate date of the earth, no one has the right to claim to know that alleged date, and he certainly has no right to impose that claimed date on his brethren. Furthermore, he certainly has no right to consider someone who disagrees with his claim as being simply uninformed on the issue. We do not advocate the truth, and we do not defend the faith when we attempt to prove what cannot be proven. Claiming to prove what cannot be proven is just as wrong as asserting that we cannot know what the Bible affirms that we must know.

Furthermore, it needs to be pointed out that the topic here discussed does not lend itself to scientific inquiry. Guy Woods, Roy Deaver, and Thomas Warren all understood that “origins” does not come within the scope of science. It falls within the scope of philosophy and theology. If one would study “the beginning” of our universe, he has to step outside the discipline of science in order to make the exploration. The “scientific method” applies to material things only in their material existence—not in how their material existence initially came into being. Science’s method applies to empirical things and not to how empirical things originally arrived. Science must consider material things as they now are.

A good friend of mine recently reminded me of something I had forgotten though I had marked it in my own book years ago. In Rubel Shelly’s 1975 book, What Shall We Do With The Bible?, Shelly affirmed, “The ‘beginning’ could have been millions or billions of years ago. Or it could have been only a few thousand years ago—with the earth having been ‘aged’ at the time God brought it into existence” (p. 91). Shelly’s onetime professor, Thomas B. Warren, wrote the “Introduction” to that book, and Warren’s publishing company, National Christian Press, published it and holds the copyright on it. Warren did not disavow the remark or edit it out of the book.

Now, let us begin to look seriously at the Genesis text. The KJV has, “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 (ASV—was brooding) upon the face of the waters.” Notice that the original creation (v. 1) is separated from the literary account of additional creative work (v. 3) by verse 2 which entails a conceptual change and a pause in the creation account itself. Verse 2 indicates that God’s Spirit was surveying the scene of the formless and void earth; it was a chaotic, water-earth mixed mass. Verse 2 is a transition verse that ties verse 1 to verse 3.

Verse 3 follows the survey of the scene, and God then continues with creative effort: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” Then “God divided the light from the darkness” (v. 4), and he “called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night” (v. 5). Then at the end of verse 5, we have, “And the evening and the morning were the first day.”

Now, in our Genesis 2:1-3, Moses wrote, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”

So, clearly there is a creation week of six days duration followed by a seventh day of rest. Now the question becomes: When did the first day begin? Did God create (ex nihilo) on the first day? Is Genesis 1:1 a part of what is described in Genesis 2:3? Or does Genesis 2:3 omit Genesis 1:1? Please notice that God rested “in” the seventh day (Genesis 2:3). So, did he initially create something out of nothing on or “in” the first day?

Now, we must remember that in Exodus 20:11 Moses recorded this: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” So, we ask ourselves whether or not Exodus 20:11 includes Genesis 1:1, or does it begin with Genesis 1:3 following the Spirit’s survey of the chaotic scene. As we ponder that question, let us think about the extraordinary situation that it addresses. Let us think about the situation like this: before creation, during creation, after creation. Or we have—

God Before He Creates (Eternity Before Time)God As He Creates (Eternity With Time)God After He Creates (Time After Eternity)

Now, when does the first day in Genesis 1 actually begin? We can exclude the first category (God Before He Creates) because by definition Day One as described by Moses is a part of creation (Genesis 1:5). That leaves two categories to consider. And this is where the controversy has always been. Now let me ask, does the third category (God After He Creates) end with Genesis 1:1? Of course not. And no one claims this on either side of the issue. So, we then ask, does the third category (God After He Creates) end with the completion of the six days work? Or, is the creation finished completely by the time of the sixth day? Yes. Again, everyone agrees that it is. So the issue has always been: Where do the six days of creation as per Exodus 20:11 begin? Do the days begin in Genesis 1:1 or do they begin in Genesis 1:3? This is the essential question in settling the dispute as to whether or not the Bible provides information whereby we can know the approximate age of the earth.

Now, the advocates of the extremely young earth theory claim that Exodus 20:11 includes Genesis 1:1 so that God began the actual creation itself on the first day, and the first day is like all the others in that it is a 24 hour period. We do not disagree as to the time of each day, but we must explore whether or not Genesis 1:1 allows for such a description of God’s initial creative act. So, let us think about God and his relationship to time.

God Before TimeGod Making TimeGod After Time

Regarding the first category (God Before Time), we know from Scripture as well as from philosophy that God existed alone before time began. Of necessity he existed before his own creative work began, of course (cf. Psalm 90:2). The third category entails all of God’s personal history subsequent to his creation of the first thing that he created. Now the fascinating and crucial category regarding our issue is the middle one: God Making Time. When did time begin? The correct answer is that it began at the point at which the first thing came into existence. Since God didn’t “come” into existence, the point at which the first thing came into existence was the creation of the heaven and earth. Whether the heaven came first or the earth came first or they came simultaneously, Moses does not say. But time is simply the description of the duration of a created condition. Time is the “marking” or “passing” of moments or segments of duration. That is, time entails the existence of something that was created and which can only be maintained by something external to itself (God). So, time began when God created the heaven and the earth. But, of course, God did not make “time” in the same sense in which he made the heaven and the earth. Time was “made” by the creation of the heaven and the earth. Simultaneously time arrived at the same point at which the heaven and the earth arrived.

Now the question is: Did God create the heaven and the earth on the first day as Moses described that day? In Genesis 1:5 Moses wrote, “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” The boundaries or markers that defined the first day were an evening and a morning. Again, I would certainly agree that as with the other six days, we are discussing a 24 hour period.

So, the next question would be: Was the initial creation of the heaven and the earth WITHIN that 24 hour period? If the answer is “yes,” then the advocates of the extremely early earth must be correct. If the answer is “no,” then there is no biblical proof of an extremely early earth (nor of an old one either). Now, which answer is correct? The correct answer, as far as I can tell, is “no.” Why? Look at the following chart:

The First 24 Hours

Before The First 24 HoursWithin The First 24 HoursFollowing The First 24 Hours

God’s first creative act as recounted by Moses (Genesis 1:1) needs to be identified or classified in order to get at the truth with regard to whether or not Exodus 20:11 includes Genesis 1:1 in its six day reference. Consider the following:

T or F #1. God initially created before the first 24 hours began (True).

T or F #2. God initially created within the first 24 hours or after the first 24 hours began (False).

T or F #3. God created following the first 24 hours (False).

We would all say that #3 is false. So what about #1 and #2? Did God initially create before the first 24 hours began? If #2 is true, then God himself was within the 24 hour period at the time of creation. That means that time already was existing before creation was initiated! If #1 is true, then we face the situation that before time, God started his initial creative work. Either God was already “in” time at the initial point of creation, or he was “outside” of and “before” time. If Exodus 20:11 includes Genesis 1:1, then we must face the “fact” that God was already existing in time before he did his initial creative work! Consider the following possibilities:

T or F #1. When God created the heaven and the earth, God did so before time.

T or F #2. When God created the heaven and the earth, God did so during time.

T or F #3. When God created the heaven and the earth, God did so after time.

To consider these questions, let us think of initial creation (ex nihilo or “out of nothing” creation). But as we consider this, we must remember to distinguish the Creator from his own creation.

CreatorCreation

In order for God to precede creation, creation as an act of force must somehow precede what the force brings about. Does God exist before the heaven and the earth do? Of course. Well, that means that the creation category must exist subsequently to that of the first category (God). So, in the creative act itself, we still have to differentiate between God himself and the thing he is creating. If there is anything about the initial creative act that preceded the actual existence of the something that came to be, then that “anything” (power exerted by God) existed prior to the first day’s 24 hour period.

Creation is the transition from nothing to something. Now, when the nothing (ex nihilo creation) becomes something, the something must be marked by time since the something was, in fact, a created something (i.e. non-eternal). So, time begins with the initial existence of what is made if what is made is durative (i.e. something that has the capacity to go out of existence).

But now remember (as already explained), that God himself is not within time to make the initial something that he makes (the heaven and the earth). Before creation, the Bible plainly teaches that God was everlasting (Psalm 90:2). But, “everlastingness” (or eternity) is not time. There is no time to eternity. Eternity is outside the boundaries of time. Time began with something created. So, again, the question is: Was God within time when he created the first thing he created, or was he before time and, therefore, outside of time?

If we affirm that God was within time, we contradict Psalm 90:2 because we are told that before God formed the world he was before time (cf. Isaiah 57:15). But, in order to claim that Genesis 1:1 is a part of the six day creation per Exodus 20:11, we must say that God was “within” time (within the first 24 hour day of creation [Genesis 1:5]). In other words, to claim that Genesis 1:1 is a part of the creation referenced in Exodus 20:11 is to put God “inside” of his own creation rather than to allow him to remain “outside” and prior to and the cause of that creation. Furthermore, note that it is not enough to claim that the earth existed on the first 24 hour day of the creation week. Of course it did. The work that God does, beginning in verse 3, has to do with an already existing heaven and earth. But the point of controversy has to do with the “creation” of the earth. In our analysis we must remain clearheaded about this.

Now, let us revisit the three True-False statements already given regarding God and time:

T or F #1. When God created the heaven and the earth, God did so before time.

T or F #2. When God created the heaven and the earth, God did so during time.

T or F #3. When God created the heaven and the earth, God did so after time.

Applying each statement to Genesis 1:1, we would have the following answers:

The first True-False statement would be “true” in the sense that God’s initial creative act had to commence or begin before the heaven and earth actually appeared. Otherwise, God did not exist before his own creation did.

The second True-False statement would be “false” in the sense of the initial exertion of divine force because the initial exertion of that force would, by definition, have to be before time or there would have been no creation at all. That is, the cause has to be prior to the effect, but in the initial “creation” of something out of nothing, the exertion of the force must result in the thing God intended (heaven and formless and void earth) where the effect “triggers” time. When God’s initial exertion results in immediate effect (heaven and earth), the effect is now in time because it is empirical (subject to ruin and passing away). Where divine cause meets physical effect is where time began. But if the initial effort or divine exertion, in any sense, preceded the effect (heaven and earth), then God did not completely create the heaven and the earth within the first 24 hour day. There had to be a foundational or first exertion of divine power that constituted the initial act of creation, the force of which resulted in the coming into being of the heaven and the earth. So we would have:

Initial Divine Exertion (Cause)The Heaven And The Earth As Formless And Void (Effect)

The third True-False statement would be “false” in reference to God’s initial exertion of force in the creative act in Genesis 1:1, but it would be “true” with regard to the creation account as recorded in Genesis 1:2-31.

Now, in conclusion, I would offer the following arguments that proceed from the above analysis:

Argument #1

Remember: God either (1) initiated creation from “within” time, or (2) God initiated creation before time and, therefore, outside of time.

  1. If God initiated creation “within” time, then time existed before the heaven and the earth did.
  2. But it is false that time existed before the heaven and the earth did.
  3. Therefore, it is false that God initiated creation “within” time.

Argument #2

  1. If God was “within” time at the point of initial creation, then he was not inhabiting eternity.
  2. But it is false that God was not inhabiting eternity at the point of initial creation (Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 57:15).
  3. Therefore, it is false that God was “within” time at the point of initial creation.

Argument #3

  1. If (1) God began creation from his habitation in eternity, and if (2) God made heaven and earth for six days, and if (3) there is a conceptual pause between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:3 at Genesis 1:2 dividing the chaotic condition of the formless and void earth from the initial orderliness beginning in verse 3, then the making of heaven and earth for six days per Exodus 20:11 begins with Genesis 1:3.
  2. (1) God began creation from his habitation in eternity [Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 57:15], and (2) God made heaven and earth for six days [Exodus 20:11], and (3) there is a conceptual pause between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:3 at Genesis 1:2 dividing the chaotic condition of the formless and void earth from the initial orderliness beginning in verse 3 (the text reveals this).
  3. Then, the making of heaven and earth for six days per Exodus 20:11 begins with Genesis 1:3.

Argument #4

  1. If God created time, then he is not within time at the initial point of time’s creation.
  2. God created time (with the creation of heaven and earth [Genesis 1:1]).
  3. Then, he is not within time at the initial point of time’s creation.

Argument #5

  1. If God is not within time at the initial point of time’s creation, then he cannot be within the first day’s 24 hour period.
  2. God is not within time at the initial point of time’s creation (Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 57:15).
  3. Then, he cannot be within the first day’s 24 hour period.

Argument #6

  1. If God cannot be within the first day’s 24 hour period at the point of time’s initial creation, then Exodus 20:11 excludes Genesis 1:1 in its reference to six days.
  2. God cannot be within the first day’s 24 hour period at the point of time’s initial creation (Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 57:15; Genesis 1:1).
  3. Then, Exodus 20:11 excludes Genesis 1:1 in its reference to six days.