Tuesday 8 October 2019

The God of Christians did not create everything from nothing (ex nihilo)

From Blake Ostler's essay The Doctrine Of Creation Ex Nihilo Was Created Out Of Nothing. His conclusion:

1. The Old Testament adopts the ancient Near Eastern view of creation out of a preexisting chaos or waste. This conclusion is supported by linguistic evidence of the meaning of beresit, by the structure of Genesis 1, by the textual, semantic and conceptual similarities between Genesis 1 and other creation accounts, and by the entire structure of the creation narrative. The word bara does not mean creation ex nihilo nor does it imply it. Rather, the word bara addresses creation by dividing and separating already existing realities and thereby creating something new that has never before existed.

2. The New Testament does not teach creation ex nihilo. To the contrary, 2 Peter 3:5 expressly teaches that God created out of the already existing chaotic waters, Hebrews 11:3 expressly teaches that God created the visible world from the already existing invisible world, and Romans 4:17 teaches that God created from an already existing substrate.

3. The claim made by C&C that the dogma of creation ex nihilo was already well-established in the Jewish texts about the time of Christ is simply false. None of the texts they cite for this conclusion address the doctrine of creation out of nothing. Indeed, some of the Jewish texts which they take to teach creatio ex nihilo, such as Second Enoch and Joseph and Aseneth expressly teach that God created the world by making visible those things which already existed as invisible. 

In addition, none of the Christian texts cited by C&C such as The Shepherd of Hermas and the Odes of Solomon actually teach creatio ex nihilo. Indeed, these texts are better explained by the doctrine of creatio ex materia. Further, it is clear that several Jewish texts from around the time of Christ, such as Philo Judeaus the Wisdom of Solomon, and several early Christian writers like Clement, Justin Martyr and Athenagorous, expressly teach the doctrine of creatio ex materia.

4. The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo appeared suddenly about 180 A.D. in the writings of Tatian and Theophilus in their arguments with Stoics and Middle Platonists. 

It is fairly clear that the doctrine arises as a philosophical consequence of their adoption of a Middle Platonic concept of God. What we see in all texts from about 165 A.D. and after is that Platonic philosophy, both Middle and Neo, have infiltrated Christian thought and become a basis for major innovations in doctrine. 

From the Mormon perspective, we see the apostasy in action in living color. The personal God of the Bible known through revelation and personal encounter is suddenly too far removed from the human sphere of existence to be involved in such things with humans. 

The notion that humans are created in the image and likeness of God must be reinterpreted to fit the Platonic view that God is utterly unique and entirely unlike humans. God’s mode of creation, therefore, must be completely different than any human mode of creation. 

The Middle Platonic assumption that only the absolutely immutable can be eternal is used as a background assumption to argue that matter cannot in any sense be eternal because it is subject to change. The Middle Platonic view that sees matter as necessarily entailing an eternal cycle of recurrence leads to adopting a view of God transcending altogether the material sphere. 

If one accepts the assumptions from which the Christian apologists of the late second century begin, then creatio ex nihilo becomes the only logical conclusion. It apparently never occurred to them to reject these Platonist assumptions.

The adoption of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo had other far reaching implications for the history and form of “Christian” theology even to our own day. 

The doctrine of creation out of nothing led inevitably to Chalcedon where Christ was described as one person having two natures, consubstantial with the Father in his deity. This two nature theory of Christology assured that the Platonic view of natures and substance would be essential to make “sense” of the doctrine of God within the creedal tradition. 

The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo also gives rise to arguments that everything that occurs must be caused by God, for if he didn’t cause each substance to exist anew in each moment, it would cease to exist. 

Thus, a very strong form of divine determinism and predestination seems to be entailed by the doctrine...


Karl said...

Dr Charlton,

I'm kind of relieved to read this, as lately I've been growing more and more suspicious of the imposition of Greek philosophical categories on Scripture. This imposition of a Platonic hermeneutic on the Bible strikes me intuitively as utterly wrong and wrong-headed. Jews were not Greeks, and vice versa! I feel a major motivation behind it is to try and tame and control the personal God who is YHWH by placing him in a conceptual cage where he must bend to the moral prejudices of 21st century humanity. It is a form of instrumentalism and ultimately idolatry in my opinion.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl - It was one of the great achievements of Joseph Smith and Mormonism simply to read the Bible afresh and notice that these philosophical categories aren't in it; and that therefore there is a very different way of being a Biblical Christian than to start out with such prior, extra-Christian assumptions as a mandatory framework; and try and fit everything into them. As Blake Ostler said, this seemed to happen (or to begin) between the time of the Apostles and the middle of the second century.