Creation Ex Nihilo – An Essential Christian Doctrine (Bavinck)

The doctrine of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) is an essential doctrine in Christian theology. The church has always confessed that the triune God created all things out of nothing. When God made this world, he did not do so with preexisting matter or materials. He spoke, and it came to be (Ps. 33:9a ה֣וּא אָמַ֣ר וַיֶּ֑הִי MT; αὐτὸς εἶπεν, καὶ ἐγενήθησαν LXX). The Nicene Creed echoes the truth of Scripture: “…God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”

The doctrine of creation ex nihilo is intimately related to the Creator/creature distinction. Creation is not part of God and God is not part of creation. The Creator, our triune God, is distinct from creation. These are essential Christian truths based on exegesis and theological interpretation of Scripture. I realize some so-called evangelical theology today is waffling on creation ex nihilo, but it is of utmost importance for us to know, believe, and defend as Christians. To help you think more about this, here are some excerpts of Herman Bavinck’s discussion of creation ex nihilo:

…Against all these [nonChristian] movements the Christian church unitedly held fast to the confession: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” And by creation it meant that act of God through which, by his sovereign will, he brought the entire world out of nonbeing into a being that is distinct from his own being. And this is, in fact, the teaching of Holy Scripture. …Scripture leaves no doubt about the matter in question. Though it does not use the term “creation out of nothing,” it clearly teaches the matter.

Elohim is not presented in Genesis 1 as a cosmic sculptor who, in human fashion, with preexisting material, produces a work of art, but as One who merely by speaking, by uttering a word of power, calls all things into being. And with that view the whole of Scripture chimes in. God is the Almighty, who is infinitely higher than all creatures, and who deals with his creatures in accordance with his sovereign good pleasure. He is the absolute owner, the qōnēh of heaven and earth (Gen. 14:19, 22), who does whatever he pleases, and to whose power there is no limit. He speaks and it comes to be, he commands and it stands forth (Gen. 1:3; Ps. 33:9; Isa. 48:13; Rom. 4:17). Further, all things in Scripture are described over and over as having been made by God and as being absolutely dependent on him. He has created all things, heaven, earth, the sea, and all that is on them and in them (Exod. 20:11; Neh. 9:6; etc.). Everything has been created by him (Col. 1:16–17), exists only by his will (Rev. 4:11), and is of him, through him, and unto him (Rom. 11:36).

Moreover, at no time or place is there even the slightest reference to an eternal formless matter. God alone is the Eternal and Imperishable One. He alone towers above processes of becoming and change. Things, by contrast, have a beginning and an end and are subject to change. [In Scripture] this is expressed in anthropomorphic language. God was there before the mountains were brought forth, and his years never come to an end (Ps. 90:2; Prov. 8:25–26); he chose and loved [his own] from the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4; John 17:24; cf. Matt. 13:35; 25:34; Luke 11:50; John 17:5; Heb. 4:3; 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8; 17:8). And though in Romans 4:17 there is no express mention of creation, it does teach that God calls and summons ta mē onta, the things that possibly do not yet exist, as if they did exist, hōs onta. …Hebrews 11:3 announces even more clearly that God has made the world so that what is seen is not made ek phainōenōn, from that which appears before our eyes.

…This teaching of Scripture was most pointedly expressed in the words ex nihilo (out of nothing) and was thus understood and passed on by Christian theology from the beginning. …The expression ex nihilo was eagerly preserved in Christian theology only because it was admirably suited for cutting off all sorts of errors at the root.

The above quotes are found in Bavinck, Herman, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 417-418.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015