Mormon view of the creation/Creatio ex nihilo

From FairMormon
Jump to: navigation, search
FairMormon-Answers-logo.png
PERSPECTIVES MEDIA QUESTIONS RESOURCES 2014 CONFERENCE

    The Mormon view of "Creatio ex nihilo"

Answers portal
Creation
Creation1.jpg
Resources.icon.tiny.1.png    RESOURCES
Adam and Eve:
Creation:
Evolution:
Perspectives.icon.tiny.1.png    PERSPECTIVES
Media.icon.tiny.1.png    MEDIA
Resources.icon.tiny.1.png    OTHER PORTALS
Answers portal
God
Alpha omega chirho1.jpg
Resources.icon.tiny.1.png    RESOURCES



Perspectives.icon.tiny.1.png    PERSPECTIVES
Media.icon.tiny.1.png    MEDIA
Resources.icon.tiny.1.png    OTHER PORTALS
Answers portal
Early Christianity &
Apostasy
Gutenberg detail1.jpg
Resources.icon.tiny.1.png    RESOURCES

Apostasy


Authority: and Priesthood


Doctrinal shift:

Perspectives.icon.tiny.1.png    PERSPECTIVES
Media.icon.tiny.1.png    MEDIA
Resources.icon.tiny.1.png    OTHER PORTALS

Questions


Mainstream Christianity teaches that God created the universe from nothing (ex nihilo), while Mormons teach that God organized the universe from pre-existing matter. The LDS God is therefore claimed to be "less powerful" than the God of mainstream Christianity, or "unbiblical."

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Answer


One non-LDS scholar's conclusion is apt:

Creatio ex nihilo appeared suddenly in the latter half of the second century c.e. Not only did creatio ex nihilo lack precedent, it stood in firm opposition to all the philosophical schools of the Greco-Roman world. As we have seen, the doctrine was not forced upon the Christian community by their revealed tradition, either in Biblical texts or the Early Jewish interpretation of them. As we will also see it was not a position attested in the New Testament doctrine or even sub-apostolic writings. It was a position taken by the apologists of the late second century, Tatian and Theophilus, and developed by various ecclesiastical writers thereafter, by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen. Creatio ex nihilo represents an innovation in the interpretive traditions of revelation and cannot be explained merely as a continuation of tradition.[1]

Creatio ex nihilo is not taught in the Old or New Testaments, or by the early Christian Fathers, unless one assumes it. The doctrine was a novel idea that altered the beliefs and doctrines of the Jews and early Christians.

SUB-ARTICLES



Creatio ex nihilo

Mainstream Christianity teaches that God created the universe from nothing (ex nihilo), while Mormons teach that God organized the universe from pre-existing matter. The LDS God is therefore claimed to be "less powerful" than the God of mainstream Christianity, or "unbiblical." (Click here for full article)

  • Colossians 1:16
    Brief Summary: Does Colossians 1:16 teach that Jesus: 1) created all things out of nothing and 2) was responsible for the existence of all beings? (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗
  • Creation of spirits
    Brief Summary: Joseph Smith taught that spirits were not created, and that spirits did not have a beginning because they will not have an end. In scripture, however, there are many verses which stated that God created spirits. Did what Joseph taught contradict the scriptures? (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗


Detailed Analysis

The problem of a pre-existent 'something'

The reason why most of modern Christianity demands ex-nihilo creation stems from arguments dealing with the sovereignty of God. If something exists apart from God—i.e., pre-exists the first act of creation, it must be co-eternal with God (and by extension, perhaps co-equal, or potentially co-equal). Likewise, LDS scripture teaches that there exists something which is co-eternal with God and potentially co-equal with God in the Book of Abraham. Is God absolutely transcendent over the material with which he works? Is there only one that pre-exists creation (God) or is there more than one?

The Old Testament

The Old Testament makes no direct statement of ex-nihilo creation, and so the creation account is scrutinized for clues. Much of the debate over ex-nihilo creation stems from the first few verses of Genesis. And the controversy starts with the very first word: bereshit. The interpretation of Genesis 1:1 faces two questions. 1) Is Genesis 1:1 an independent sentence or a dependent clause, introducing the first sentence? And 2) What is the relationship of verse 1 to verse 2 (and even the remainder of the creation narrative in Genesis chapter 1)?

The Hebrew word roshit occurs some 50 times in the Old Testament. The vowels in the word indicate that is a construct form - that it means "beginning of" and not just "beginning". Of the other 50 occurrences, 49 of them follow this pattern. The exact same construction with the prefix be- occurs in four other places (Jer. 26:1; 27:1; 28:1; 49:34), and in each instance is generally translated as "In the beginning of the reign of ..." The other instances of roshit follow this construct pattern except for one in Isaiah 46:10, where we read: "I am God ... declaring the end from the beginning." Here there can be little doubt that the word cannot be read as a construct. And this one occurrence is often used to justify reading bereshit in Genesis 1:1 as an absolute and not a construct. To which we respond, is a grammatical error in one location reason to justify an adoption of a similar reading here? Why should we adopt the reading favored by one example over the dozens of alternatives?

If beroshit is a construct state, then verse 1 and verse 2 are both subordinate clauses describing the state of everything at the moment which God begins to create, and the beginning of verse 3 becomes the main clause for the first sentence of the Bible. Read this way, the beginning of the Bible reads:

When God began to create the heavens and the earth (the earth being without form and void, and darkness was on the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God moved upon the surface of the waters), God said, "Let there be light".

The first act of creation then is the command for light to exist. And all the rest - the earth as a desert and a wasteland (terms that imply an absence of both plant and animal life), the darkness, the deep, and so on, all exist prior to that first act of creation - and by definition are pre-existent.

Apart from this passage, there is often discussion over the meaning of the word bara - "to create". The Hebrew term bara itself is rather indifferent to the question of ex-nihilo creation. Often the claim is made that the word is used exclusively of God, but this clearly isn't the case (see for example Ezekiel 21:19). The meaning of bara here is dependent entirely on how we read the rest of the first line of the Old Testament.

In the absence of any Old Testament expressions of ex-nihilo creation, it seems preferable to follow the view that Israelite religion had not developed this theology. Joseph Smith resolved the interpretive crux in Genesis 1:1 in a rather unique fashion. In the Book of Moses, rather than defining creation in absolute terms (either from nothing or from something), he limits the description of creation in Genesis to a particular place and time. Creation is no longer universal:

And it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 'Behold, I reveal unto you concerning this heaven and this earth; write the words which I speak. ... Yea, in the beginning I created the heaven and the earth upon which thou standest. (Moses 2:1,3)

The New Testament

The New Testament doesn't provide much additional help in resolving the issue. It relies heavily on the language of the Old Testament when discussing creation. And the same sorts of ambiguities arise. As James Hubler's Ph.D. dissertation on this very issue noted:

Several New Testament texts have been educed as evidence of creatio ex nihilo. None makes a clear statement which would have been required to establish such an unprecedented position, or which we would need as evidence of such a break with tradition. None is decisive and each could easily be accepted by a proponent of creatio ex materia...The punctuation of [John 1:3] becomes critical to its meaning. Proponents of creatio ex materia could easily qualify the creatures of the Word to that "which came about," excluding matter. Proponents of creatio ex nihilo could place a period after "not one thing came about" and leave "which came about" to the next sentence. The absence of a determinate tradition of punctuation in New Testament [Greek] texts leaves room for both interpretations. Neither does creation by word imply ex nihilo...as we have seen in Egypt, Philo, and Midrash Rabba, and even in 2 Peter 3:5, where the word functions to organize pre-cosmic matter. [2]

Early Christian beliefs about creation

Contrary to the critics' claims, their belief in ex nihilo creation was not shared by the first Christians. The concept of creatio ex nihilo

began to be adumbrated in Christian circles shortly before Galen's time. The first Christian thinker to articulate the rudiments of a doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was the Gnostic theologian Basilides, who flourished in the second quarter of the second century. Basilides worked out an elaborate cosmogony as he sought to think through the implications of Christian teaching in light of the platonic cosmogony. He rejected the analogy of the human maker, the craftsman who carves a piece of wood, as an anthropomorphism that severely limited the power of God. God, unlike mortals, created the world out of ‘non-existing’ matter. He first brought matter into being through the creation of ‘seeds’, and it is this created stuff that is fashioned, according to His will, into the cosmos.[3]

Thus, the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was first advanced by a Gnostic (a heretical branch of Christianity), and did not appear until more than a century after the birth of Christ.

The idea of God using pre-existing material in creation was accepted by at least some of the early Church Fathers, suggesting that beliefs about the mechanism of creation altered over time, as Greek philosophical ideas intruded on Christian doctrine. Justin Martyr (A.D. 110—165) said:

And we have been taught that He in the beginning did of His goodness, for man's sake, create all things out of unformed matter; and if men by their works show themselves worthy of this His design, they are deemed worthy, and so we have received-of reigning in company with Him, being delivered from corruption and suffering.”[4]

Justin continues elsewhere with such examples as:

  • “by the word of God the whole world was made out of the substance spoken of before by Moses.”[5]
  • [the earth,] “which God made according to the pre-existent form.”[6]
  • “And His Son, who alone is properly called Son, the Word who also was with Him and was begotten before the works, when at first He created and arranged all things by Him, is called Christ, in reference to His being anointed and God's ordering all thing; through Him...”[7]

Justin was not the only Father to reject ex nihilo creation. Clement said in his "Hymn to the Paedagogus":

Out of a confused heap who didst create This ordered sphere, and from the shapeless mass Of matter didst the universe adorn....[8]

And, Blake Ostler comments on 1 Clement:

Clement stated: "Thou . . . didst make manifest the everlasting fabric of the world. Thou, Lord, didst create the earth." The terms used here by Clement are significant. He asserts that God did "make manifest" (ἐϕανεροποίησας) the "everlasting fabric of the world" (Σὺ τὴν ἀέναον του κόσμου σύστασιν). He is referring to an eternal substrate that underlies God's creative activity. Clement is important because he is at the very center of the Christian church as it was then developing. His view assumed that God had created from an eternally existing substrate, creating by "making manifest" what already existed in some form. The lack of argumentation or further elucidation indicates that Clement was not attempting to establish a philosophical position; he was merely maintaining a generally accepted one. However, the fact that such a view was assumed is even more significant than if Clement had argued for it. If he had presented an argument for this view, then we could assume that it was either a contested doctrine or a new view. But because he acknowledged it as obvious, it appears to have been a generally accepted belief in the early Christian church.[9]

The doctrine is altered

Non-LDS author Edwin Hatch noted the influence of some Greek philosophical ideas in the change to creatio ex nihilo:

With Basilides [a second century Gnostic philosopher], the conception of matter was raised to a higher plane. The distinction of subject and object was preserved, so that the action of the Transcendent God was still that of creation and not of evolution; but it was "out of that which was not" that He made things to be . . . . The basis of the theory was Platonic, though some of the terms were borrowed from both Aristotle and the Stoics. It became itself the basis for the theory which ultimately prevailed in the Church. The transition appears in Tatian [ca. A.D. 170][10]

Notes

  1. James N. Hubler, "Creatio ex Nihilo: Matter, Creation, and the Body in Classical and Christian Philosophy through Aquinas" (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1995), 102; cited in Blake T. Ostler, "Out of Nothing: A History of Creation ex Nihilo in Early Christian Thought (review of Review of Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, "Craftsman or Creator? An Examination of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation and a Defense of Creatio ex nihilo," in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement, edited by Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 253–320. off-site
  2. James N. Hubler, "Creatio ex Nihilo: Matter, Creation, and the Body in Classical and Christian Philosophy through Aquinas" (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1995), 107–8; cited in Blake T. Ostler, "Out of Nothing: A History of Creation ex Nihilo in Early Christian Thought (review of Review of Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, "Craftsman or Creator? An Examination of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation and a Defense of Creatio ex nihilo," in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement, edited by Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 253–320. off-site
  3. Gerhard May, Schoepfung Aus Dem Nichts: Die Entstehung Der Lehre Von Der Creatio Ex Nihilo (Arbeiten Zur Kirchengeschichte, Vol 48) (Walter De Gruyter Inc, 1978), 63-85. ISBN 3110072041; as quoted in Robert Louis Wilken, The Christians as the Romans saw Them (Yale University Press, 2003), 88–89. ISBN 0300098391.
  4. Justin Martyr, "First Apology of Justin," in Chapter 10 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:165. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  5. Justin Martyr, "First Apology of Justin," in Chapter 59 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:182. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  6. Justin Martyr, "Hortatory to the Greeks," in Chapter 30 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:286. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  7. Justin Martyr, "First Apology of Justin," in Chapter 10 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:165. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  8. Clement, "Hymn to the Paedagogus," in ? Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)2:296. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  9. Blake T. Ostler, "Out of Nothing: A History of Creation ex Nihilo in Early Christian Thought (review of Review of Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, "Craftsman or Creator? An Examination of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation and a Defense of Creatio ex nihilo," in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement, edited by Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 253–320. off-site; citing 1 Clement 60, in J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, ed. J. R. Harmer (1891; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1956), 1:176. Lightfoot translates this text as: "Thou through Thine operations didst make manifest the everlasting fabric of the world" (1:303). See Oscar de Gebhardt and Adolphus Harnack, Patrium Apostolicorum Opera: Clementis Romani (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1876), 1:100.
  10. Edwin Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, 195–196.



Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

About FairMormon        Join FairMormon        Contact        Donate


Copyright © 2014 by FairMormon. All Rights Reserved.
No portion of this site may be reproduced without the express written consent of FairMormon.