Creation Debates are Not New

Creation Debates are Not New July 22, 2013

The first two centuries of the Christian church included serious debates between major theologians — like Justin Martyr and Tertullian — and they debated one essential idea: Did God create out of nothing or did God create from pre-existing material? A problem actually arises from the translation of Genesis 1:1-2.

KJV: 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.”

NRSV: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Notice how this works: in the KJV, after God created the heaven and the earth, there was “without form, and void” while in the NRSV God’s creation turned things from formlessness and voidness into created order. The KJV, in some sense, has a problem setting up the possibility of a two-stage creation: first matter, then order out of matter. The NRSV’s translation could well imply the same, but perhaps not. Both translations are legit.

We talk about creation and science often on this blog, mostly through the posts of RJS (who is a professional scientist), but creation is not just a debate. It is an affirmation about God, that God is Life and that God is responsible for creation. Do you see any prospects for a resolution among Christians of a traditional bent to see legitimacy in theistic evolution or evolutionary creation or creationary evolution? Or is this a make or break issue?

All of this is discussed in Ronald Heine, Classical Christian Doctrine, because the first lines of the Nicene Creed says:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, 
of all that is, seen and unseen.

At the time of Jesus and the apostle Paul, and a set of ideas still central by the end of 2d Century AD, there were two basic views: the Platonic view was that God “created” out of pre-existing materials while the Aristotelian view was that matter existed eternally.

Christians differed, too. Justin Martyr was like Plato in thinking God created out of existing materials while Tertullian argued — and his view captured the church — that God created out of nothing (ex nihilo). Tatian said God created matter and then out of matter created the order we see.

The fundamental issue comes down to the doctrine of God: if God alone is the origin of life, matter depends on and comes from God, and therefore the Aristotelian and pre-existing theories are defined off the map. If God alone is Life and if God is creator, then at some point in time matter did not exist and came to exist. Thus, creation is ex nihilo in orthodox thinking.

Of course, this says absolutely nothing about how God chose to create. A creationary evolution that affirms all comes from God coheres with orthodoxy as much as the creationist’s view.

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