Creatio ex nihilo

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Tree of Life by Eli Content at the Joods Historisch Museum. The Tree of Life, or Etz haChayim (עץ החיים) in Hebrew, is a mystical symbol used in the Kabbalah of esoteric Judaism to describe the path to HaShem and the manner in which He created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing).

Creatio ex nihilo (Latin for "creation out of nothing") is the doctrine that matter is not eternal but had to be created by some divine creative act.[1] It is a theistic answer to the question of how the universe comes to exist. It is in contrast to Ex nihilo nihil fit or "nothing comes from nothing", which means that all things were formed from preexisting things; an idea by the Greek philosopher Parmenides (c.540-480 BC) about the nature of all things, and later more formally stated by Titus Lucretius Carus (c. 99 – c. 55 BC)


Ex nihilo nihil fit: uncreated matter[edit]

Ex nihilo nihil fit means that nothing comes from nothing.[2] In ancient creation myths the universe is formed from eternal formless matter,[3] namely the dark and still primordial ocean of chaos.[4] In Sumerian myth this cosmic ocean is personified as the goddess Nammu "who gave birth to heaven and earth" and had existed forever;[5] in the Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish pre-existent chaos is made up of fresh-water Apsu and salt-water Tiamat, and from Tiamat the god Marduk created Heaven and Earth;[6] in Egyptian creation myths a pre-existent watery chaos personified as the god Nun and associated with darkness, gave birth to the primeval hill (or in some versions a primeval lotus flower, or in others a celestial cow);[7] and in Greek traditions the ultimate origin of the universe, depending on the source, is sometimes Okeanos (a river that circles the Earth), Night, or water.[8]

To these can be added the account of the Book of Genesis, which opens with God separating and restraining the waters, not creating the waters themselves out of nothing.[9] The Hebrew sentence which opens Genesis, Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve'et ha'aretz, can be interpreted in at least three ways:

  1. As a statement that the cosmos had an absolute beginning (In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth).
  2. As a statement describing the condition of the world when God began creating (When in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was untamed and shapeless).
  3. As background information (When in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, the earth being untamed and shapeless, God said, Let there be light!).[10]

It has been known since the Middle Ages that on strictly linguistic and exegetical grounds option 1 is not the preferred translation.[11] Our society sees the origin of matter as a question of crucial importance, but for ancient cultures this was not the case, and the authors of Genesis wrote of creation they were concerned with God bringing the cosmos into operation by assigning roles and functions.[12]

Creatio ex nihilo: the creation of matter[edit]

Creatio ex nihilo, in contrast to ex nihilo nihil fit, is the idea that matter is not eternal but was created by God at the initial cosmic moment.[13] In the second century a new cosmogony arose, articulated by Plotinus, that the world was an emanation from God and thus part of God. This view of creation was repugnant to Christian church fathers as well as to Arabic and Hebrew philosophers, and they forcefully argued for the otherness of God and his creation and that God created all things from nothing by the word of God.[14] The first articulation of the notion of creation ex nihilo is found in the 2nd century writing To Autocylus (2.10) authored by Theophilus of Antioch.[15] By the beginning of the 3rd century the tension was resolved and creation ex nihilo had become a fundamental tenet of Christian theology.[16] Theophilus of Antioch is the first post New Testament author to unambiguously argue for an ontological ex nihilo creation from nothing, contrasting it to the views of Plato and Lucretius who asserted clearly that matter was preexistent.[17]

In modern times some Christian theologians argue that although the Bible does not explicitly mention creation ex nihilo, various passages suggest or imply it.[18][failed verification] Others assert that it gains validity from having been held by so many for so long; and others find support in modern cosmological theories surrounding the Big Bang.[19] Some examine alternatives to creatio ex nihilo, such as the idea that God created from his own self or from Christ, but this seems to imply that the world is more or less identical with God; or that God created from pre-existent matter, which at least has biblical support, but this implies that the world does not depend on God for its existence.[19]

In Jewish philosophy[edit]

Theologians and philosophers of religion point out that it is explicitly stated in Jewish literature from the first century BCE or earlier depending on the dating of 2 Maccabees:[20][21]

2 Maccabees 7:28:[22]

I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.

Others have argued that the belief may not be inherent in Maccabees.[23]

In the first century, Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenized Jew, lays out the basic idea of ex nihilo creation, though he is not always consistent, he rejects the Greek idea of the eternal universe and he maintains that God has created time itself.[24] In other places it has been argued that he postulates pre-existent matter alongside God.[25] But other major scholars such as Harry Austryn Wolfson see that interpretation of Philo's ideas differently and argue that the so-called pre-existent matter was created.[26]

Saadia Gaon introduced ex nihilo creation into the readings of the Jewish bible in the 10th century CE in his work Book of Beliefs and Opinions where he imagines a God far more awesome and omnipotent than that of the rabbis, the traditional Jewish teachers who had so far dominated Judaism, whose God created the world from pre-existing matter.[27] Today Jews, like Christians, tend to believe in creation ex nihilo, although some Jewish scholars recognise that Genesis 1:1 recognises the pre-existence of matter to which God gives form.[28]


Most scholars of Islam share with Christianity and Judaism the concept that God is First Cause and absolute Creator; He did not create the world from pre-existing matter.[29][30] However, some scholars, adhering to a strict literal interpretation of the Quran such as Ibn Taimiyya whose sources became the fundament of Wahhabism and contemporary teachings, hold that God fashioned the world out of primordial matter, based on Quranic verses.[31]

Compared to modern science[edit]

The Big Bang theory, by contrast, is a scientific theory; it offers no explanation of cosmic existence but only a description of the first few moments of that existence.[32][33]


Cosmological argument and Kalam cosmological argument[edit]

A major argument for creatio ex nihilo, the cosmological argument, states in summary:[34]

  1. Everything that exists must have a cause.
  2. The universe exists.
  3. Therefore, the universe must have a cause.

An expansion of the first cause argument is the Kalam cosmological argument, which also requires creatio ex nihilo:[35]

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
  4. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal creator of the universe exists, who without the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and infinitely powerful.
  5. Therefore, an uncaused, personal creator of the universe exists, who without the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and infinitely powerful.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Bunnin & Yu 2008, p. 149,"The doctrine of creation ex nihlo maintains that matter is not external and that no matter existed prior to the divine creative act at the initial moment of the cosmic process."
  2. ^ Pruss 2007, p. 291.
  3. ^ Berlin 2011, p. 188-189.
  4. ^ Andrews 2000, p. 36,48.
  5. ^ Wasilewska 2000, p. 45,49,54.
  6. ^ Wasilewska 2000, p. 49-51,56.
  7. ^ Wasilewska 2000, p. 58-59.
  8. ^ Gregory 2008, p. 21.
  9. ^ Berlin 2011, p. 189.
  10. ^ Bandstra 1999, pp. 38–39.
  11. ^ Blenkinsopp 2011, p. 30.
  12. ^ Walton 2006, p. 183.
  13. ^ Bunnin & Yu 2008, p. 149.
  14. ^ Harry Austryn Wolfson,“The Meaning of Ex Nihilo in the Church Fathers, Arabic and Hebrew Philosophy, and St. Thomas”
  15. ^ McFarland, Ian A. In Adam's fall: a meditation on the Christian doctrine of original sin. Vol. 29. John Wiley & Sons, 2011, pp. 50-1, n. 13. External
  16. ^ May 2004, p. 179.
  17. ^ Craig D. Allert (24 July 2018). Early Christian Readings of Genesis One: Patristic Exegesis and Literal Interpretation. InterVarsity Press. pp. 213–. ISBN 978-0-8308-8783-5.
  18. ^ Oord 2014, p. 32.
  19. ^ a b Oord 2014, p. 3-4.
  20. ^ K. A. Mathews (1996). Genesis 1-11:26. B&H Publishing Group. pp. 141–. ISBN 978-0-8054-0101-1.
  21. ^ Paul Copan; William Lane Craig (June 2004). Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration. Baker Academic. pp. 99–. ISBN 978-0-8010-2733-8.
  22. ^ James L. Kugel; James L Kugel (30 June 2009). Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible As It Was at the Start of the Common Era. Harvard University Press. pp. 62–. ISBN 978-0-674-03976-6.
  23. ^ Wolters 1994, p. 109-110.
  24. ^ David B. Burrell; Carlo Cogliati; Janet M. Soskice; William R. Stoeger (2 September 2010). Creation and the God of Abraham. Cambridge University Press. pp. 33–. ISBN 978-1-139-49078-8.
  25. ^ May 2004, p. 10.
  26. ^ Institute for Christian Studies (1994). Hellenization Revisited: Shaping a Christian Response Within the Greco-Roman World. University Press of America. pp. 115–. ISBN 978-0-8191-9544-9.
  27. ^ Satlow 2006, p. 201-203.
  28. ^ Karesh & Hurvitz 2005, p. 103-104.
  29. ^ Friemuth 2013, p. 128.
  30. ^ Husam Muhi Eldin al- Alousi The Problem of Creation in Islamic Thought, Qur'an, Hadith, Commentaries, and KalamNational Printing and Publishing, Bagdad, 1968 p. 29 and 96
  31. ^ Husam Muhi Eldin al- Alousi The Problem of Creation in Islamic Thought, Qur'an, Hadith, Commentaries, and KalamNational Printing and Publishing, Bagdad, 1968 p. 53
  32. ^ Van Till 1990, p. 114.
  33. ^ "Brief Answers to Cosmic Questions". Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics for NASA's Education Support Network. It is a common misconception that the Big Bang was the origin of the universe. In reality, the Big Bang scenario is completely silent about how the universe came into existence in the first place. In fact, the closer we look to time "zero," the less certain we are about what actually happened, because our current description of physical laws do not yet apply to such extremes of nature. The Big Bang scenario simply assumes that space, time, and energy already existed. But it tells us nothing about where they came from - or why the universe was born hot and dense to begin with.
  34. ^ Pecorino, Philip A. "The Cosmological Argument". Introduction To Philosophy. Queensborough Community College, CUNY.
  35. ^ Craig 2000, p. 105.