We often hear the statement “God created everything out of nothing” and may be inclined to think that means each specific thing created in Creation Week was created from nothing—e.g. that plants on Day 3 were created from nothing, as were stars on Day 4, etc. But is this the picture that Genesis 1 gives us? CMI New Zealand’s Ross Peeters explores what Genesis 1 says about how God created.
E.L. from Australia writes:
Hi. I just stumbled across something I’ve never noticed before, despite all the many times I’ve read Genesis 1. I always thought that God made everything out of nothing, i.e. the earth out of nothing, plants out of nothing, animals out of nothing, etc. but that man was made out of the dust of the earth, and woman from man’s rib. But it actually says ‘let the land produce vegetation’ and ‘let the land produce living creatures’, so were plants and animals also created from the dust? But it doesn’t say that for the birds and fish. So were they made out of nothing? I mean, I know that all matter came from nothing on day one, but I’d never noticed this before. Please explain, or point me to an article on this that I may have missed in my search! Thanks, and keep up the good work.
Thank you for submitting your interesting question to CMI. I’ll point out first that although God leaves no doubt about the order of creation, how long (6 consecutive solar days) and when (about 6,000 years ago), the creation account is not comprehensive. As you point out, God does provide a bit more detail about his masterpiece, Adam, who was formed from the dust of the earth and Eve from the side of Adam.
Traditionally, Christians understand that the creative process that God utilized involved His Word, the creation of matter from nothing on Day 1, and the forming of that matter into the objects that populate our physical universe. The article Evolution still an option? expands this concept, and I copy the relevant part here for completeness:
The Bible clearly reveals that God created this universe:
1. By fiat (by decree, by his Word):
“And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). “Then God said, ‘Let the waters below the sky be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear!’; and it was so” (Genesis 1:9). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him [i.e. the Word], and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1 3). “ … by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by the water” (2 Peter 3:5). “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God … ”(Hebrews 11:3).
2. Ex nihilo (out of nothing):
“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” (Hebrews 11:3). ‘ … God, Who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist’ (Romans 4:17).
3. By creative acts:
Although the universe, heavens and earth, were created out of nothing, much of the contents of this universe were created out of the material which God had previously created out of nothing. Thus the Bible says, ‘God separated the light from the darkness’ (v.4) or ‘God made the expanse’ (v.7), or ‘God made the two great lights’ (v. 16), or ‘God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul’ (Genesis 2:7). But all these creative acts, though not by fiat and not ex nihilo, are nevertheless done in less than a day. They are not achieved over a long period of time, such as thousands or millions of years, but, according to the numerals used, in less than one solar day.
To extend this thought, Henry Morris in The Genesis Record provides the following commentary:
“The earth itself originally had no form to it (Genesis 1:2); so [Genesis 1:1] must speak essentially of the creation of the basic elements of matter, which thereafter were to be organized into the structured earth and later into other material bodies. The word is the Hebrew erets and is often also translated either ‘ground’ or ‘land’. Somewhat similarly to the use of ‘heaven’, it can mean either a particular portion of earth (e.g., the ‘land of Canaan’—Genesis 12:5) or the earth material in general (e.g., ‘Let the earth bring forth grass’—Genesis 1:11)” (p. 41).
Morris goes on to describe that “Initially there were no stars or planets, only the basic matter component of the space-matter-time continuum. The elements which were formed into the planet Earth were at first only elements, not yet formed but nevertheless comprising the basic matter—the ‘dust’ of the earth [emphasis in original]” (p. 50).
There are numerous places in Scripture which talks about God being the ‘potter’ and ‘forming’ his creation (e.g. Isa. 64:8, Rom. 9:21, Psa. 95:5, Psa. 103:14, Psa. 104:26). Like a potter who works with clay, God used the material he created on Day 1, to form/create the plants on Day 3, which you in fact alluded to in your question.
You mentioned that birds and fish were not described as coming from the ‘dust’. However, Gen. 2:19 states “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky”. Thus the Bible does say that birds were created from the same ‘dust’ material.
I hope this helps.
Ross Peeters General Manager Creation Ministries International (NZ)
On CMI you constantly talk about the 6 day creation, as if the days were of 24 hour duration. How does this square with 2 Peter 3:8 and Psalm 90:4 which appears to say that the day period can be of hundreds or thousands of years?
I would have thought that the New Testament would have priority over the Old.
Shaun Doyle responds
I would recommend inputting "2 Peter 3:8" into our search function; you will find we've answered this before.
Bobby D., United States, 8 July 2013
on the matter of 2 Peter 3:8, Peter was simply trying to point out that "time" is not a problem with GOD. you have to try and not take it out of context.
Jim M., Australia, 8 July 2013
One of the most evocative descriptions I know of the creation process is in CS Lewis' "The Magician's Nephew" (one of the Narnia series).
The Pevensey children and others were suddenly transported to a dark place and were standing on a featureless surface. A voice began to sing in the darkness, and in response to the words stars, landscape, waters, plants and animals grew and appeared. They could perceive how the sounds of the song corresponded to the form and character of each of the created elements.
I find this a vivid literary picture of God's creation of everything "by his word" in a sequential process, as described in Genesis 1 & 2.
Thomas D., Germany, 8 July 2013
What was Mr. Morris's thinking re. “Initially there were no stars or planets". It would seem to me that our solar system would have to be in the beginning just like it is today in order for our World to be livable. And the reason for this way of thinking is because our solar system is balanced and any deviation from its being balanced should be noticeable here on our World.
Shaun Doyle responds
Dr Morris was referring to the initial state of creation in Genesis 1:2, which was before any life on earth existed. There was no life to sustain at that point because it hadn’t been created yet. The first reference to any sort of cellular life on earth in the Genesis narrative are plants on Day 3, which was indeed before the rest of the solar system was created (which were created on Day 4). But since life on earth ultimately depends on the omnipotent God sustaining it and not on the arrangement of the solar system, that’s not a problem for the Bible.
Charles P., United States, 11 July 2013
May I suggest that one of the problems we have is our applying 21st C thinking to essentially primitive thoughts. The 1st audience was not scientifically sophisticated, thus ideas TO them were limited by their conceptual frames and very limited language structure. To understand the Word, we must not rely on OUR concepts, but be humble enough to recognize our inability to convert the figures of antiquity to modern thought.
Shaun Doyle responds
We of course agree cultural and historical context of a book is essential for interpreting it properly (who disagrees with this?). However, original audience didn't need 21st century science to understand the difference between a 6,000-year chronology of the universe and 14-billion-year chronology of the universe (see Genesis according to evolution).
There may be depths in meaning in Genesis 1 the average reader may not appreciate. There may be careful use of literary structure (possibly involving number symbolism) in the narrative (see On literary theorists’ approach to Genesis 1: Part 2). There may be significance to cultural concepts such as purity codes for understanding the logic in the sequence of the events narrated (see Dubious and dangerous exposition). However, neither of these factors change the fact that in Genesis 1 we are dealing with a cosmogonic (origins of the universe) sequence of events that really happened. Moreover, none of these factors are even commented on in the rest of Scripture, though in every instance Genesis 1 is referenced in the rest of Scripture it is treated as a historical account of the absolute origins of the universe. That should leave us without doubt that historical fact is the most important aspect of what the author was trying to convey in Genesis 1. Genesis 1 may convey more than history, but history (even in the particulars) is not absent from what it conveys.
Please see Problems in interpreting Genesis: Part 1 and Problems in methods of interpretation—Genesis 1–11: Part 2, which are by specialist in Ancient Near Eastern literature Dr Noel Weeks.