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Doctrine of Ex Nihilo

(Last updated 9-2-99)

Areas covered:

The Beginning of a Controversy
The Earliest Christians and Creation
Reason for the Change
The Creator/Creature Dichotomy
"Creation" in the Old Testament
Early Christianity and the Creator
The Conflict With Gnosticism
The God of Philosophy
The Trintarian Controversy
The Contribution of Augustine
Romans 4:17 and "Being"
Hebrews 11:3 Proves Ex Nihilo?

The Beginning of a Controversy

The idea that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing is unique in that it is a development within Christinaity after it became, in essence, a branch of Greek philosophy. The early Greeks and the most notable of the early Apologists, Justin Martyr, taught that God made the earth out of pre-existing matter. The doctrine that God created the earth from pre-existing matter was eventually filtered out through time, as the influence of Greek philosophy seemed to guide the early Church into some rather different, if not heretical doctrines. These doctrines would eventually be considered "orthodoxy," and the only "acceptable" form of true Christianity as dictated by Modern Christianity today. This article is an attempt to demonstrate how this doctrine of ex nihilo was only one of many that were a result of philosophical persuasions, as opposed to divine revelation. In this case, persuasion from a particular Gnostic teacher.

Mormons believe exactly what the Bible taught, as did the earliest Christians concerning the creation of the world, in that it was created by Jesus Christ using pre-existing matter. Joseph Smith's teachings have been characterized by the word "eternalism": "Every principle that proceeds from God is eternal" (TPJS, p. 181). The "pure principles of element" and of intelligence coexist eternally with God: "They may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed" (TPJS, p. 351). God created the universe out of chaos, "which is Element and in which dwells all the glory" (WJS, p. 351). "The elements are the tabernacle of God" (D&C 93:35). God is related to space and time, and did not create them from nothing. Change occurs through intelligence. The universe is governed by law. There were two creations: All things were made "spiritually" before they were made "naturally" (Moses 3:5). Through his Son, God is the Creator of multiple worlds. God is the Father of the human spirits that inhabit his creations, and His creations have no end. This article will hopefully demonstrate why this doctrine is biblical, and also how it was filtered out during the early centuries, for the substitute "creation out of nothing" theory.

The post-Apostolic Christians came to believe that God created the entire material universe out of absolutely nothing, rather than out of pre-existent, chaotic matter. This has become known as creatio ex nihilo. How did the Christian Church come to accept such a complicated and unscriptural article of faith? This study will attempt to show that the basis of this fundamental departure from the simplicity of faith in a personal God who is our Heavenly Father, and in his son Jesus Christ, is the consequence or corollary of the development of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo; i.e., God alone is uncreated and eternal, while all else--mankind, angels, other living things, and matter itself--was created by God out of nothing, ex nihilo, and is thus of an entirely different order of being from the Creator. So how did this doctrine come about?

Perhaps in a misguided attempt to give more glory to God, Christian philosophers of the late second century discarded the early Christian and Jewish idea of creation from chaos in favor of the theory of creatio ex nihilo, as formulated by the Gnostic philosopher Basilides. This theory penetrated the Christian community through Tatian in the second half of the second century:

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. 170 A.D.] (Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages in the Christian Church, 195-196.)

Others also agree that Basilides was the ultimate author of this doctrine, and in fact Peter Hayman indicates that there is only one recognized scholar who has recently worked on the problem of its origin- Jonathan Goldstein, who still maintains that the doctrine originated within Judaism, although he even admits that case for a Biblical ex nihilois weak. Frances Young of the University of Birmingham gives Basilides credit for coming up with the idea of creation out of nothing and then explains that basilides' theory was a radicalizing of the Greek idea of the transcendence of God:

The driving force of Basilides' logic is his notion of radical transcendence... [is] his critique of human analogies- the ultimate God is not an anthropomorphic world-builder....His idea of creation out of not so much a confrontation with Greek conceptions as a radicalizing of them...(Hayman, "Monotheism-- A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?," Journal of Jewish Studies 42 (1991)

Balisides' idea was that God's creation was like the development of a seed. God made the original seed out of nothing ("immediate creation"). It was the ultimate sumum genus, the broadcast classification of ousia, inclusive of all classes of created things. According to Basilides, the "seed" was then developed into the univers and then its contents (Ibid, 195-196) this idea was not unlike Anaxagoras' theory of creation, who also believed that Mind was seperate from Matter.

Basilides taught that the process by which all things came into existence as they now appear was an almost infinite breakdown of the summun genus into suborinate groups. The result was an array of things descending from the highest of all abstractions, the Absolute Being and teh Absolute Unity, who is go, to the visible objects of sense. (Justin, First Apology, 10)

this idea was impressed upon Christianity by Tatian before his defection to the Gnostics. He wrote:

The Lord of the universe being Himself the substance of the whole, not yet having brought any creature into being, was alone: and since all power over both visible and invisible things was with Him, He Himself by the power of His words gave substance to all things with Himself." (Tatian, Speech to the Greeks, 5)

Thus, Tatian departed from the teachings of his mentor, Justin, in his speculation on the creation of the matter out of which God ultimately formed the heavens and the earth. he decided that God had made the universe out of... Himself! Later, that view was slightly modified b Hippolytus, as will be indicated below. Professor Hatch acknowledges and rationalizes this philosophical development as follows:

It had probably been for a long time the unreasoned belief of Hebrew monotheism: the development of the Platonic conception within the Christian sphere gave it a philosophical form: and early in the third century it had become the prevailing theory of the Christian Church. God had created matter.(Hatch, Influence of the Greeks, 195)

Hatch gives the apostate notions of this new theology an appealing sound, but seekers after biblical truth must keep in mind that there is no basis for his statements in the Bible. Nor is there any basis to surmise that this doctrine was ever the "unreasoned belief of Hebrew monotheism." There is no evidence for that assumption in the Old Testament. Indeed, the notion presents serious philosophical problems of its own.

"Nearly all recent studies on the origin of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo have come to the conclusion that this doctrine is not native to Judaism, is nowhere attested in the Hebrew Bible, and probably arose in Christianity in the second century C.E. in the course of its fierce battle with Gnosticism. The one scholar who continues to maintain that the doctrine is native to Judaism, namely Jonathan Goldstein, thinks that it first appears at the end of the first century C.E., but has recently conceded the weakness of his position in the course of debate with David Winston."

[Peter Hayman, "Monotheism - A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?", Journal of Jewish Studies 42 (1991), 1-15. See also Jonathan Goldstein, "The Origins of the Doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo", Journal of Jewish Studies 35 (1984), 127-135; Jonathan Goldstein, "Creation Ex Nihilo: Recantations and Restatements", Journal of Jewish Studies f38 (1987), 187-194; David Winston, "Creation Ex Nihilo Revisited: A Reply to Jonathan Goldstein", Journal of Jewish Studies 37 (1986), 88-91.]

The Earliest Christians and Creation

The earliest Christians believed the Jewish doctrine of creation from chaos. For instance, Justin Martyr wrote, "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..."(Justin Martyr, First Apology 10, in ANF 1:165.) Peter himself echoed the picture presented in Genesis 1:1-2 of a watery chaos from which the world was created. The New English bible translates these passages in the following way: "In the beginning of creation... the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss, and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters." (Genesis 1:1-2 NEB) "There were heavens and earth long ago, created by God's word out of water and with water..."(2 Peter 3:5 NEB)

During the first two hundred years, the Wisdom of Solomon, along with many other Jewish apocryphal writings, was considered to be inspired Christian doctrine, and it tells us that "For thy almighty hand, which created the world out of formless matter, was not without further resource"( Wisdom of Solomon 11:17 NEB). Also, "He formed substance from chaos and made it with fire and it existed, and he hewed out great columns from intangible air."(Sefer Yesira, quoted by Hayman) Hayman also quotes Bereshit Rabba, "If it were not written explicitly in scripture, it would not be possible to say it: God created heaven and earth from what? From the earth was chaos.."

The earliest reference to the idea of creation ex nihilo in post-New Testament Christian writing is thought to be the verse in Hermas' Shepherd.(Herman, The Shepherd, Book 2, Commandment 1.)Irenaeus cited the Shepherd for what he thought was scriptural proof of his position on creation ex nihilo.(Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 4:20:2) The verse he quotes however, states "First of all believe that there is one God, who has established all things, and completed them, and having caused that form what had no being, all things chouls come into existence;"(emphasis added).

Irenaeus' interpretation of the phrase "from what had no being" is a reflection of his own bias. It was out of matter having "no being" that the Platonists believed the sensory universe was made. While many viewed it as unorganized chaos or chaotic matter, which under the direction of God, was "becoming," the unrefined matter out of which they believed God made the universe was generally considered an illusion. It had "no being."

The Apologists believed in the metaphysical universe and also assumed that it was an illusion. An illusion, no matter what it is made of is basically, nothing. It was that step the Apologists took in declaring that God had made the world out of nothing. Thus, the entire concept was based on the Greek view of creation out of something unreal, pre-existing matter--something that had "no being." How they made this significnt philosophical step is necessary to an understanding of the origins of classical theism today.

Justin Martyr lived much closer in time to Hermas than did Ireaneus. In fact, they were contemporaries in Rome. Justin was undoubtedly familiar with the Shepherd, yet he did not take from it the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. He believed that the universe was the result of God's action on pre-existing matter as it was always believed. In his writings, that matter appears to have been more substantial than the Greeks or the later Apologists imagined it. His Language implies that this was unified teaching of the Church at that time. Specifically, he wrote:

"And that you may learn that it was from our teachers-- we mean the account given through the prophets-- that Plato borrowed his statement that God, having altered matter which was shapeless, made the world, hear the very words spoken through Moses, who, as above shown, was the first prophet, and of greater antiquity than the Greek writers; and through whom the Spirit of prophecy, signifying how and from what materials God at first formed the world, spake thus: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was invisible and unfurnished, and darkness was upon the face of teh deep; and the Spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said, let there be light; and it was so," So that both Plato and they who agree with him, and we ourselves, have learned, and you also can be convinced, that by the word of God the whole world was made out of the substance spoken of before by Moses.(Justin Martyr, First Apology, 59)

Justin's position on this doctrine, however, did not satisfy Iraneus. The later Apologists were developing a doctrine centered around a transcendent God and based on the metaphysical foundations of Greek philosophy. hence, they were obsessed with the same questions that had occupied the Greek philosophers for so long. What was teh ultimate relation of Matter to God? How did God come into contact with it so as to shape it? (Hatch, Influence of Greek thought, 194.) These questions assumed ideas about God that differed from biblical teaching, so the answers given by the later Apologists were often vastly different from the answers given in the Bible.

The dualistic view of teh universe, common in Platonism at thattime, was that matter and God coexisted as seperate things, or "substances."(ibid, 174-75, 177-178). There was also and idea that beneath the outwards appearance of existing matter was a more basic structure that gave things a certain unity. (ibid 194-195) Democritus taught that all existing things were formed out of atoms.(Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1960 ed., s.v. "Democritus") This understanding of the universe is close to the modern scientific view of atomic theory.

Athenagoras, Hermongenes, and Clement of Alexandria were among the early Christian writers who explicitly taught creation from chaos. For example, in his Hymn to the paedagogus, Clement rhapsodized: "Out of a confused heap who didst create This ordered sphere and from the shapeless mass of matter didst the universe adorn...."( Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 3:12. in ANF 2:296) Indeed, the third century Origen complained that he could not understand how so many learned people could have held this opinion: "And I cannot understand how so many distinguished men have been of the opinion that this matter... was uncreated, i.e., not formed by God Himself, who is the Creator of all things, but that its nature and power were the result of chance."( Origen, De Principiis 2:1:4.) At times I see Modern Christians trying to interpret these teachings from early Christians, in a figurative way that would somehow appear more supportive of creation ex nihilo, but given Origen's comments here, it is quite obvious that the LDS interpretation of the early Christian teachings are exctly what they say, and he also had a problem accepting this. Again it is important to remember that ex nihilo was not even a known concept during the first centuries of Christianity, but as we will see, it was simply a reaction to Gnosticism, and Greek influence.

Reason for the Change

If Christianity had become so enamored with greek philosophy, why did the Church take hold of this strange doctrine of creation out of nothing when Plato himself believed in the eternity of matter? Young postulates that Christians may have accepted creation ex nihilo as a reaction to the rapid flux of secular philosophy. that is, they were trying to seperate themselves from the mainstream of Greek philosophy, which they realized had made inroads into the Church. If so, we can see that without the guide of revelation Christians were apt to accept philosophical ideas in place of revelation and reject revelation where it coincided with philosophy. Unfortunately, this same tragedy exists today in modern Christianity.

Perhaps it is more realistic to postulate that these second century Christian thinkers were merely eager to express their belief in God in terms the Greek world could accept, therefore they had to incorporate a radically transcendent view of diety. For example, Theophilus of Antioch was eager for chance to show that the Christian God was even more transcendent than other gods because he created everything out of nothing!

And what great thing is it if God made the world out of existent materials? For even a human artist, when he gets material from some one, makes of it what he pleases. but the power of God is manifested in this, that out of the things that are not He makes whatever he pleases.." (Theophilus, Theophilus to Autolycus 2:4)

I would suppose that the creation of planets would indeed be a "great thing," no matter if the material was there already or not. Why second guess God's greatness and try to add to it? However, another view, adopted by David Winston, is that Christian thinkers readily accepted creation ex nihilo because it provided a good argument against the extreme Gnostic position that matter is not just a lower reality, but actually evil. if this is the case, it is ironic that the doctrine apparently orginated with a Gnostic teacher such as Basilides.

In any case, the transition to this mode of thought happened nearly instantaneously. "The adoption of the view that the world was created out of nothing was almost universal in Christian circles very quikly."(Young, "Creatio Ex Nihilo Revisited", 89) This transition was most likely aided by the fact that seemingly contradictory language was used in the scriptures and by earlier Christian and Jewish writers. For instance, the creation account in Genesis indicates creation from a watery chaos, and the Wisdom of Solomon taught that God "created the world out of formless matter," but 2 Maccabees 7:28 asserted that "God made the sky and the earth out of nothing, comes into being the same way." Paul seemed to imply creation out of nothing : "God...summons things that are not yet in existence as if they already were" (Romans 4:17 NEB), and yet we saw that Peter's language recalled the Genesis acount of creation from a watery chaos. indd, in the very same verse Paul wrote that God "fashioned" (Greek katertisthai = "adjusted, put into order, rstored, repaired") the universe, but in such a way that "the visible came forth from the invisible." (Hebrews 11:3 NEB) Frances Young writes that Philo spoke of things being "created from nothing" in some passages , but clearly took for granted the concept of creation from chaos in others. (Young, F., 1991 "Creatio ex Nihilo") To these ancient writers "existence" meant organized existence, and "non-existence" meant chaos.

This difficulty in expression is illustrated by the way Basilides had to pound home his idea that there was really nothing in the beginning: "There was nothing, no matter, no substance, nothing insubstantial, nothing simple, nothing composite, nothing non-composite, nothing imperceptible..." If the expression, "creation from nothing," would have had the same meaning to everyone in his audience, he would not have had to take such great pains to explain himself. Note how Tertullian, who accepted creation ex nihilo, found it necessary to take into account the older usage as employed by those who believed in creation from chaos:

The Creator's works testify at once to His goodness, since they are good, as we have shown, and to His power, since they are mighty. and spring indeed out of nothing. And even if they were made out of some (previous) matter, as some will have it, they are even thus out of nothing, because they were not what they were. (Tertullian, Against Marcion 2:5, in ANF 3:301.)

So it appears that although Tertullian somewhat agreed with the new doctrine ex nihilo, he obviously had some reservations in completely abandoning the original doctrine of creation from chaos. One defendent of the ex nihilo doctrine, in his book Christian Theology, claims that those passages in the New Testament that refer to the begining of the world or the beginning of creation (Matt. 13:13;19:4,8;24:21;25:34; Mark 10:6; 13:19; Luke 11:50; John 8:44; 17:24; Rom.1:20; Eph.1:4;2 Thess.2:13;Heb 1:10;4:3;9:26;1 Pet 1:20; 2 Pet 3:4; 1 John 1:1;2:13-14;3:8; Rev 3:14; 13:8;17:8)"show that creation involves the begining of the existence of the world, so that there is no pre-existent matter."

That is too far a leap to be sustained by the words "beginning" or "foundation" used in these passages, especially in light of Genesis 1:2. The beginning of the existence of the world does not imply the begining of the existence of matter. there is no logical relationship between the two. The Book of Job speaks of the morning stars singing together for the "foundations of the earth" (Job 38:4-7). This passage gives the impression that the universe, at the time of the earth's beginning, was widely inhabited with a variety of life and matter. The ex nihilo doctrine was not taught by the Jews to whom these passages were revealed, nor is there any language in these passages that would support Professor Erickson's proposition. The plain truth is that the Bible does not teach creation ex nihilo.

The Creator/Creature Dichotomy

The culmination of the long process of doctrinal development and philosophical speculation in early Christianity, at least in the Western Church, lies in the definitive corpus of the writings of St. Augustine, whose famous conversion occurred in 386. He became the authority for generations of Catholics and Protestants, and one still finds no rival to Augustine's reputation and influence who does not depend upon him far more than he might venture to contravene him. His De Trinitate, on which the Athanasian Creed is based, is the classic statement of the trinitarian position; but the theme of a God who is transcendent, unchanging, and incomprehensible runs throughout his writings. "Nothing can be said that is worthy of God. We seek for a fitting name but do not find it." (Augustine, Tractate on the Gospel of John 13.5, ) For Augustine it is impossible for any man to know God, or even any of his attributes, for man is entirely different from his Maker and exists on a completely different plane of reality. The only reliable information about God is negative--what he is not. (Augustine, Discourses on the Psalms 85, in Patrologiae Latina, ed. J.P. Migne, 221 vols. ) God is, by philosophical definition, incomprehensible to the mind or senses of man, and it is impious to assert any direct knowledge of him. (Augustine, Sermons 117.3.5, in PL, 38:663)

By Augustine's time it was well established among Christian writers in both East and West that existence in the full sense belonged to God alone, and he affirmed that all creation, being changeable and corruptible, cannot have "true being":

Anything whatsoever, no matter how excellent, if it be mutable has not true being, for true being is not to be found where there is also non-being.(This material is located in the archives of Dartmouth Library and Yale Medical School. )

In the words of the modern theologian Paul Tillich, God is not a being, but being-itself. (Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, 3. vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951-63), 1:235.) God transcends every being and the totality of beings. He is totaliter aliter--"wholly other." In philosophical terms, God has "necessary being" but man has only "contingent being"; his existence is totally dependent upon the will of God. Man, a "creature," is like every other created thing, whether animal, vegetable, mineral, or even spirit: not only does his initial existence stem from the creative fiat of God, but his continued existence is sustained only by God's active will. Before the divine creative activity, man (and all else) did not exist, either as individual entities or as unorganized matter. Man had an absolute beginning and, should God cease to will his existence, will have an end.

In its doctrine of God and man, then, mainstream Christianity has postulated two radically different orders of existence or planes of reality, with a firm ontological line drawn between them--a radical gulf of essential being which forever separates the Divine from the human, the Creator from the created.

There is no greater sense of distance than which lies in the words Creator-Creation. Now this is the first and the fundamental thing which can be said about man: He is a creature, and as such he is separated by an abyss from the Divine manner of being. The greatest dissimilarity between two things which we can express at all--more dissimilar than light and darkness, death and life, good and evil--is that between the Creator and that which is created (Emil Brunner, Man in Revolt: A Christian Anthropology, trans. Olive Wyon (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1947), p. 90. )

Although this statement by the neoorthodox theologian Emil Brunner would be considered extreme by some, it is merely the logical outcome of such official pronouncements as the Westminister Confession of Faith of the Anglican (1647), and the Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith, adopted by the First Vatican Council in 1870, which insists that God "is to be declared as really and essentially distinct from the world," which is created out of nothing. (See Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3:606ff and 2:239. )

Mormonism, on the other hand, in one of its most radical departures from traditional Christian orthodoxy, proclaims that man and God are of the same race, that God is a personal being with a physical body and literally our Eternal Father, and that we also are eternal beings without essential beginning or ultimate end. (Two excellent treatments of this are in Sterling M. McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1965), pp. 49ff. and Truman G. Madsen, Eternal Man (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966), pp. 23ff. et passim. ) Not only has mankind always existed as intelligence "in the beginning with God," but matter itself is eternal (D&C 93:23,33). It cannot be created or made per se, only organized or formed into specific material entities.

"Creation" in the Old Testament

Consequently Joseph Smith took issue with the standard translation and interpretation of the opening verse in the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." (HC, 6:475. ) Although the Hebrew word bara, here translated created, is usually reserved in the Old Testament for God's activity in forming the world and all things in it, synonymous terms and phrases scattered throughout the Hebrew scriptures take the force out of any attempt to use this fact as evidence that an ex nihilo creation is being described in Genesis 1. The most common of these synonyms are yasar, to shape or form, (Genesis 2:7, 8, 19; Isaiah 27:11, 43:1, 45:7,; Jeremiah 1:5; 10:16) and 'asah, to make or produce. (Genesis 2:3; 3:11; Job 36:3; Isaiah 45:7. Note especially Isaiah 45:18, where yasar and 'asah immediately follow and clarify bara') In a study of the Hebrew conception of the created order, Luis Stadelmann insists that both bara', and yasar carry the anthropomorphic sense of fashioning, while 'asah connotes a more general idea of production. (Luis I. J. Stadelmann, The Hebrew Conception of the World (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1970), p. 5.) Throughout the Old Testament the image is that of the craftsman fashioning a work of art and skill, the potter shaping the vessel out of clay, or the weaver at his loom. (Isaiah 29:16, 40:22, 45:9, 51:13, 15, 16; Psalms 74:13-17, 89:11, 90:2. Cf. Romans 9:20. ) The heavens and the earth are "the work of God's hand." (Psalms 102:25; 8:3.) Thus Joseph Smith, who had studied Hebrew, preferred to translate the verb bara' as "to organize." (HC, 6:475. ) Accordingly, the Gesenius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, tells us there are four meanings of bara, (1) to cut, to carve out, or to form by cutting,; (2) to create or produce; (3) to beget; and (4) to eat, to feed or to fatten. Even classical theists have had to admit that creation out of nothing is not consistent with any of these meanings, includiong "create or produce." (Erickson, Christian Theology. 368.) The same word bara is used to describe God's creation of Man in Genesis 1:27. Later, in Genesis 2:7, Moses states that man was "formed... of the dust of the ground." The words "formed" in this verse is, again, translated from the Hebrew bara. Clearlythe use of that word was never intended to imply out of nothing. God specifically states the substance out of which Man was created, namely the "dust." Likewise, in Genesis 1:2 he identified the material from which this world was made, a lifeless and ruined planet. Anything more than this is pure speculation, and must be identified as such.

Although apparently the Prophet in this instance was speaking primarily from the standpoint of scholarship rather than the direct word of the Lord, contemporary theologians, committed to the ex nihilo position. Since his day, however, the influence of biblical critics, combined with the canons of modern physics, have taken their toll on the orthodox position, while vindicating the Latter-day Saint interpretation. Frank M. Cross concludes that it was the creatio ex nihilo tradition which prompted the translation of Genesis 1:1 found in the King James and similar versions. According to The Interpreter's Bible, the Hebrew bere' sit would more properly be rendered "In the beginning of" (Keith Norman, Class lecture notes, Harvard University, September 1972) rather than simply "In the beginning." Thus the first verse of Genesis does not stand apart from the following narrative as a kind of summarizing prelude, but merges naturally with verse two, and we might correctly translate, as E.A. Speiser suggests, "When God set about to create heaven and earth, the world being then a formless waste. . .," (E. A. Speiser, Genesis, vol. 1, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 19640, p. 3.) or, as Cross renders it (subscribing to the theory of the higher critics that Genesis 1:2 a later addition), "When God began to create the heaven and the earth, then God said, 'Let there be light.'" The traditional translation of Genesis 1:1 as an independent statement, implying that God first created matter out of nothing, and then (verses 2ff.) proceeded to fashion the world from that raw material, is now widely questioned, (Hermann Gunkel, Schopfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit (Gottingen: Vandnhoeck und Ruprecht, 1897), p. 7, n. 3; cf. Gerhard von Rad, Genesis, trans. John H. Marks (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961), p. 49, and esp. p. 46: ". . . the notion of a created chaos is . . . a contradiction." ) and several recent translations have adopted the approach advocated by Speiser and Cross. (Simpson, Genesis, Interpreter's Bible, 1:466. Other modern versions which incorporate this usage include The New Jewish Version: "When God began to create the heaven and the earth, the earth being unformed and void. . . ."; similarly The Bible, An American Translation (1931); The Westminster Study Edition of the Holy Bible (1948); Moffat's translation (1935); and the Revised Standard Version (RSV), alternate reading.)

The King James translation of Genesis 1:2, which renders the Hebrew as "void," has also lent support to the creation ex nihilo theory, whereas actually the word always occurs in the Old Testament in tandem with tohu ("formless"), describing a "formless waste," or the "chaos" common to Near Eastern creation mythology (Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1959), p. 26. Cf. von Rad, Genesis, p. 49: "'Tohuwabohu' means the formless; the primeval waters over which darkness was superimposed characterizes the chaos materially as a watery primeval element, but at the same time gives a dimensional association: tehom ('sea of chaos') is the cosmic abyss. . . . This declaration, then, belongs completely to the description of chaos and does not yet lead into the creative activity. . .") In the last analysis it is this association of Genesis 1 with the ubiquitous creation stories of antiquity which decidedly rules out creation ex nihilo as the idea behind the biblical text. The earth was tohu wabohu: "without form and void," as the Authorized (King James) Version renders it, "and darkness was upon the face of the deep (tehom)," i.e., the watery chaos (cf. 2 Peter 3:5). This hardly signifies absolute nonexistence; rather it speaks of the formless primeval chaotic matter, the Urstoff out of which the Creator fashioned the world.(See von Rad, Genesis, p. 49.) Hermann Gunkel called this chaos of Genesis 1 "ein uralter Zug," which apparently has an independent existence, however shadowy. (Gunkel, Shopfung und Chaos, p. 7. Gunkel refutes Wellhausen's assertion (n. 3) "that Chaos was created by God in the beginning according to Genesis 1; this is untenable; the 'heaven and earh' is the organized world.") Thus, concludes C.H. Dodd, "the Mosaic account of creation postulates two pre-existent factors--the eternal God, and Chaos." (C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935), p. 103.)

Even a modern Catholic theologian can no longer maintain "that the first Genesis account expressly teaches that God created all things out of nothing. The notion of 'nothing' was unimaginable to the unsophisticated author." (Robert Butterworth, The Theology of Creation, nol. 5 of Theology Today (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969), p. 37.)

Just as elsewhere in the Old Testament, when the Lord God "laid the foundations of the earth," his command brought response from the elements rather than effecting existence as such (Psalms 104:5-9; cf. Isaiah 48:13), so also, admits Gerhard von Rad, in Genesis 1 "the actual concern of this entire report of creation is to give prominence, form and order to the creation out of chaos," (von Rad, Genesis, p. l47. This is a concession, since von Rad tries to establish an ex nihilo creation by the priority of vs. 1 over vs. 2.) i.e., unorganized, chaotic matter. Accordingly, Speiser, after an extensive analysis of the Hebrew in the first verses of Genesis, is forced to concede in a guarded, roundabout statement: "To be sure my interpretation precludes the view that the creation accounts say nothing about coexistent matter."( Speiser, Genesis, p. 13. ) That is, Speiser, against his orthodox tradition, must interpret Genesis 1 as describing the creation by God out of preexisting matter, not ex nihilo.

In fact the Old Testament account of the creation, from Genesis 1 and consistently throughout, supports the radical departure of Joseph Smith and Mormonism from the orthodox ex nihilo dogma. God fashioned or organized the heavens and the earth from existing material and not "out of nothing," and though God is far above man in his righteousness, perfection, and glory he formed man "in His own image and likeness." This personal, anthropomorphic, actively-working God is vastly different from the one of the creeds and the theologians, and belief in this kind of a Father-Creator brought at least as much contempt from sophisticated thinkers in the early Christian period as it does today.

Early Christianity and the Creator

Early Christianity grew up in a scene far removed from that of the Hebrew prophets. It was a world saturated by Greek culture and ideas even more than it was dominated by Roman politics, and Jewish resistance to this foreign influence had been gradually breaking down. One of the most conspicuous examples of this is the Septuagint, the translation of the Old Testament into Greek, traditionally attributed to seventy Jewish elders in Alexandria. This work reflected the disdain of Greek intellectuals for the demiourgoi, or craftsmen, who were looked down on as the lowest order of society. (See Plutarch, Theseus, 25, and Pol., 3.4. ) Even the artist who created a great work was differentiated from his achievement, and its "creator" remained an object of contempt. (Plutarch, Pericles, 2, in ibid., 3:1024. ) Aristotle pointed out that this applies to the demiurge of the cosmos, (Aristotle, On the Procreation of the Soul in Plato's Timaeus, in Theological Dictionary, 3:1024. ) and thus the Septuagint, when referring to God as the Creator, avoided forms of the word demiourgos in favor of the verb ktidzo and its derivatives. Homer, however, had used ktidzo in the sense of "to build" or "establish" a city, and the word still carried its architectural connotation into New Testament times, despite our translation of ktidzo as simply "to create." (Foerster, in Theological Dictionary, 3:1025. However, the Septuagint's rendition of the Hebrew tohu wabohu in Genesis 1:2 as aoratos kai akataskeuastos (unseen and unfurnished) "probably meant to suggest the creation of the visible world out of preexistent invisible elements" (Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks, p. 111).) Nevertheless, it was a step removed from the anthropomorphic craftsman image of creation, and provided a foothold for later advocates of an ex nihilo interpretation.

It is important, however, to observe that the Jewish doctrine of creation was not highly developed in a technical sense at the beginning of the Christian era. Divine creation was an assumption rather than an assertion: both Christian and Jewish writings reveal belief in the Almighty God, the sovereign Lord of all creation, without speculating on the nature of the act of creation itself. (Langdon Gilkey, Maker of Heaven and Earth: A Study of the Christian Doctrine of Creation (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959), p. 49.) But there are indications in the intertestamental literature of a tendency to speak with greater clarity on the refinements of theological issues. In the Wisdom of Solomon 11:17 we read of God's hand which "created the world out of unformed matter (ktisasa ton kosmon ex amorphou hyles)," but 2 Maccabees 7:28 had already affirmed of the heavens and earth, that "God did not make them out of existing things (ouk ex onton epoiesen auta)." Although this latter phrase has often been cited as early and explicit assertion of creation out of nothing, actually such an idea is quite remote, (Foerster, in Theological Dictionary, 3:1016) since "the non-existent [in 2 Maccabees 7:28] is not absolute nothing, but . . . the metaphysical substance . . . in an uncrystallized state." (C.A. Scharbau, as quoted by Foerster, in Theological Dictionary, 3:1001, n. 6.) This relative "nonbeing" referred to a chaotic, shadowy state of matter before the world was made; as we might say in biblical terms, "without form and void." Such a view is implicit throughout the Greco-Roman literature of the time of Christianity's inception, and there is no indication in the Christian writings that they held a different view. On the contrary, a famous late nineteenth-century study by Edwin Hatch of the inroads of Greek philosophy into early Christianity describes the tacit but widespread assumption of the coexistence of matter with God.

There was a universal belief that beneath the qualities of all existing things lay a substratum or substance on which they were grafted. . . . It was sometimes conceived of as a vast shapeless but plastic mass, to which the Creator gave form, partly by molding it as a potter molds clay, partly by combining various elements as a builder combined his materials in the construction of a house. (Edwin Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity (London and Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1892), pp. 194ff. )

In spite of the fact that this assumption is not regularly made explicit, the two types of expression, the one specifying the preexisting material and the other emphasizing the new state of being or order achieved in creation, continued to develop along parallel lines. But if some Jewish writers were beginning to show the influence of Greek ideas and culture, Jesus and his followers taught the God of the fathers, not a new or higher immaterial God. Jesus' summons for men to live as God would have them was entirely in the prophetic tradition of what Tillich calls "biblical personalism." In radical contrast to "philosophical ontology," he insists, "no ontological search can be found in the biblical literature." (Tillich, Systematic Theology, 2:11ff) The authors of scripture were simply not concerned with defining the nature of being. As McGiffert explains it in a somewhat regretful tone,"Jesus' idea of God indeed is quite naive and anthropomorphic, and there is no sign that he was troubled by any speculative problems or difficulties." (Arthur C. McGiffert, The God of the Early Christians (New York: Charles Scribher's Sons, 1924), p. 4.)

During his mortal ministry, Jesus spoke simply of "the creation which God created" (Mark 13:19), without elaborating on the details, and this was in harmony with the Rabbinic view which regarded speculations on the nature of preexistent matter as "useless and dangerous," since "it is enough to say that God created the world and all that therein is." (Foerster, in Theological Dictionary, 3:1017. Cf. George Foote Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 3 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1927), 1:381.)

On the other hand, for the most part the New Testament was composed in Greek, and its terminology was greatly influenced by the Septuagint. Thus the term demiourgos is used only once, in Hebrews 11:10, which has no direct reference to the creation. The most common verb to describe the creative activity is kidzo but it is followed in frequency by poieo (to make or produce, especially of art), and plasso (to form, mold, shape or fashion), both of which are used synonymously. Despite the attempt of later commentators to exploit such passages as Romans 4:17, 11:36, Colossians 1:16, and Hebrews 11:3 to show an implicit creation ex nihilo, a closer examination of the text belies this interpretation. As Werner Foerster admits, Romans 4:17, when translated "calls into existence the things that not exist" (RSV, from kalountos ta me onta hos onta), " contains a logical impossibility. . . . One can call forth only that which already exists." (Foerster, in Theological Dictionary, 3:1010. "The idea of a command presupposes the existence of ministering and obedient power to carry out the will to create." Ibid. n. 72. See above, note 42, and below, note 84.) The Authhorized Version remains closer to the original.

Furthermore, in Romans 9:20-23 Paul himself employs the potter-vessel image of Isaiah 29:16, while 2 Peter 3:5 reminds us that the earth "was formed out of water" (RSV)--the primeval chaos, or "deep" of Genesis 1:2 The plain fact is that the New Testament writers were at one with those of the Old when they referred to the creation; this and the period immediately following is characterized by Kelly as a "pre-reflective, pre-theological phase of Christian belief." (Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 90) What this means for the present discussion is that no one had yet thought of a creation "out of nothing."

The Conflict With Gnosticism

Two major currents of thought were instrumental in bringing about the reinterpretation of the mode of creation among Christians: the Gnostic cosmologies which denigrated the material creation and its creator or Demiurge, and the Greek philosophical conceptions of God as the One, Transcendently good, immaterial, and eternally unchanging.

By the latter part of the first century A.D., especially during the persecutions of Domitian's reign (81-96), the forces of the world seemed about to overwhelm the young church, now virtually benefit of the personal guidance of apostles. Many Christians were bewildered by the seeming disintegration of their world. Numerous "false prophets" came forth claiming to be the guardians of the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom.

It was under such circumstances that the Gnostic cosmologists produced their dualistic cosmogonies to exonerate the supreme Creator from complicity in the malign state of affairs by attributing it to the Demiurge(E.O. James, Creation and Cosmology (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1969), p. 93.)

The basic idea is that the Demiurge who created the world is far down the hierarchical scale of being from the supreme Unknown Father and, either out of ignorance or rebellion, made the universe full of evil and defect, which became a prison into which the souls or pure elements of spirit were cast down. Such thinking was a real threat to the Old Testament account of creation, and against this mythology Christian and Jewish writers alike were pushed to clarify the Genesis account in terms of the Creator as the absolute soul existent being.

A good example of the sort of challenge that stimulated the recasting of the Old Testament view of creation is Marcion, who left the Christian Church in Rome in A.D. 144, insisting on the literal meaning of the Jewish scriptures. For Marcion the strict legalistic God of the Old Testament could not be reconciled with the grace and redeeming love revealed in the gospel of Christ, and he concluded that there must be two Gods, the lower Demiurge whom the Jews worshipped, and the supreme "hidden" God reveled for the first time by Jesus. (See Tertullian, Against Marcion 1.2 et passim in ANF, 3:271ff. ) Although Marcion was not a Gnostic in the strict sense, his low opinion of the Creator closely parallels Gnostic cosmological schemes. Together with the Gnostic attack on the harsh and seemingly capricious Creator in the Old Testament, Marcion's rejection of the Jewish scriptures and Deity, on the basis of his interpretation of Paul, brought a response from orthodox circles which sought to allegorize the Old Testament and describe its God in the more acceptable philosophical language of divine transcendence. "Christians in the second century had rejected the gnostic attack on creator and creation, and had in rebuttal asserted both the goodness of the Creator and Creation. (Brooks Otis, "Cappadocian Thought as a Coherent System," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 12 (1958):114.)

Ironically, the reaction against the Marcionite and Gnostic views put the orthodox Christian God up to compete for superlatives with the Supreme Hidden God of Gnosticism, until finally the biblical Father was pushed into a transcendent alienness beyond comprehensible reality. Obviously this super-being could be no mere craftsman or artificer, and an explicit formulation of a creation ex nihilo concept was the next logical step. The step was taken by Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyon near the end of the second century, in his anti-Gnostic treatise Against Heresies. (In ANF, 1:315-567) In the face of the Gnostic dualism which attempted to isolate the supreme God from the visible universe, Irenaeus countered by asserting the creation of the world out of "nothing," i.e., God's will alone. This means that the world takes its being directly from God and is therefore good, rather than intrinsically evil and alien from divine being, as the Gnostics taught. "They do not believe," Irenaeus argued, "that God, according to His pleasure, in the exercise of His own will and power, formed all things . . . out of what did not exist." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.10.2, in ANF, 1:370.) Although this is impossible for men, all things are possible with God:

While men, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point preeminently superior to men, that He Himself called into being the substance of His creation, when it previously had no existence(Ibid., 2.10.4. )

But this was a new argument, formulated for polemical purposes, and did not win immediate assent from Irenaeus'peers. There was a certain amount of rethinking necessary concerning basic ideas about the nature of deity. (See Gilkey, Maker of Heaven and Earth, pp. 47ff. )

The God of Philosophy

A new conception of God in terms of the absolutes of Greek philosophy is implicit in the following analysis by E.O. James, and this development went hand in hand with the reaction to Gnosticism in making the belief in an ex nihilo creation an inevitable adjunct:

By the end of the second century, largely as a result of the conflict with Gnosticism, the view of the cosmos being fashioned from pre-existent matter was abandoned in favor of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. God alone, it was affirmed, was without beginning or end as the Ultimate Principle, existing in his own right as Creator. Therefore, the cosmos was created by him "out of nothing." (James, Creation and Cosmology, p. 92. )

In the struggle against the gross heresies of the gnostics, "orthodox" Christianity rushed to the citadel of Greek philosophy. Second century pagan philosophers spoke scornfully of Christians as people who believed in a God who had a human form, and sophisticated Christians, including converted philosophers such as Justin Martyr, were embarrassed by the naivete of their theology. They could not help but be influenced by what G.L. Prestige calls the "speculative influence" which "permeated the very atmosphere mentally absorbed by the Christians of the second and third centuries, even more completely than simplified biology and third-hand physics pervade the popular intellectual atmosphere of the twentieth century." (Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, p. xvii. ) The simplicity of Christian doctrine, which Paul wrote makes "foolish the wisdom of this world" (1 Corinthians 1:20), was now seen by many Christians as well by the pagans to be rather strange and outdated.

When Justin, the Platonist Christian convert who was martyred in A.D. 165, taught a preexistent primal matter (hyle) which, he assures us, "we have learned" from our revelations he was well within the tradition of Clement, the earlier (c. A.D. 96) bishop of Rome. Clement had praised God who "has made manifest (ephaneropoiesas) the everlasting fabric (aenaon sustasin) of the world." (1 Clement 60.1, in Apostolic Fathers, 1:223. ) But when Justine associates this with Plato's teaching in the Timaeus, (Justin, First Apology 59, ) he calls to mind the Greek mythological tales of a bungling demiurge who formed the world out of primordial matter (hyle) which resisted perfection, and thus a defective world was created. (E.R.Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety (New York: W.W.Norton & Co., 1965)).

Justin's peers, including the Apologists Aristides of Athens, Justin's renegade pupil Tatian, Athenagorass of Athens, Theophilus of Antioch, and Later Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and his successor Origen, were only too eager to shun the superstitions of mythology and exploit any links between their own ideas of God and those found in Platonism, the most widespread and respected of all philosophic traditions. "It was the Platonic tradition which was to play the vital role in determining the image of God which predominates in the thought of the [Church] Fathers." (Maurice Wiles, The Christian Fathers (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1966), p. 16) The now well-worn description of God as "without body, parts or passions," taken from the first of the Church of England's Thirty-nine Articles, "is not the sort of description of God which arises naturally or spontaneously from the Bible taken by itself," Maurice Wiles reminds us. "It comes straight from this platonic tradition which the Fathers shared with the most thoughtful of their pagan contemporaries." The Platonic dualism between spirit (or intellect) and matter, between the real and the illusory, the eternal and the transitory, the One and the many, gained increasing support among the Church Fathers. Where the Bible speaks of God as unchanging, referring to his constancy in judgment and grace, the Fathers affirmed from this a metaphysical static permanence; it seemed obvious that a perfect being does not change.

The concept of unity has long fascinated both the philosophical and the religious mind. From the biblical emphasis on Jehovah as the only true God a leap had to be made to the mathematical ideal of a simple undifferentiated unity, and this concept became axiomatic from Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria through Origen, finding its most fervent eloquent expression in Augustine. The tendency was always to describe God in absolutes and infinites, and Athenagoras, as early as the latter part of the second century, professed a belief in "one God, the uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, uncontainable, comprehended only by mind and reason, clothed in light and beauty and spirit and power indescribable, by whom the totality came to be". (Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 10, in ANF, 2:133. ) Such a being could not have any peer, since there can only be one infinite, and infinitude was equated with divine or eternal, so that only God himself could be eternal in any ultimate sense. (Athenagoras himself did not draw the conclusion of a creation ex nihilo from this. See p. 308 )

This wholesale adoption of Greek philosophical metaphysics, which is still the basis of Christian theology, gave rise to serious questions--indeed numerous heresies--concerning several basic Christian doctrines, since Christians worshipped Jesus as God. How can an unchanging, impassible God become incarnate, or suffer and die? How can the Platonic concept of God as a simple undifferentiated unity be thought to have a Son who is also divine? (Wiles calls this a "logical impossibility." Christian Fathers, p. 19. )How can a God without any passions possess "love"? And can a totally self-sufficient, never-changing God participate in any act of creation as though in need of anything outside himself?

The only way these difficulties could be resolved was to push the philosophic logic even further, and this is where Christianity went beyond Greek philosophy. Justin himself repudiated the Stoic idea that the world is necessary to God's own existence or divinity, since he was God before the world was made. (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 127, in ANF, 1:263. )Tatian, who left the Roman Church after the martyrdom of his teacher Justin, agreed with him that the world was created out of matter, but further postulated an absolute creation apparently from nothing, of that matter by God. "For matter is not, like God, without beginning," he reasoned. (Tatian, Address to the Greeks 5; cf. 12 in ANF, 2:67 and 70.) About the same time Theophilus, who became bishop at Antioch in A.D. 168, argued against the Platonists that, if God is uncreate and matter is uncreate [=eternal], then God cannot be the Maker of the universe, nor is there any indication if the monarchy, or single rulership, of God. The power of God is shown by his creation of the world "out of things that are not." According to Theophilus; any craftsman (demiourgos) can manipulate existent material. ( Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolychus 2.4, in ANF, 2:95)In spite of such logic, as late as the beginning of the third century the Christian Hermogones shared with the Greek mind the view that creation ex nihilo is wholly irrational. But his contemporary Tertullian, despite his claim to be a firm opponent of Greek philosophy, reasoned with rigid philosophical logic when he objected that only the divine is eternal, which also implies unchangeableness and indivisibility. Eternal matter would subject God to limitation and destroy his liberty. Tertullian concluded, "It is more worthy to believe that God is the free author of evil things than to believe that he is a slave, "that is, limited in any respect by coexistent matter.(Tertullian, Against Hermogones 21, in ANF, 3:489. )

In fact, the rash of arguments in favor of ex nihilo creation at the end of the second century points to the newness the concept.(Origen, On First Principles 2.1.4, in ANF, 4:269)Tertullian's tract especially adds to the evidence that the argument was against an established belief within the Church, since it was directed against a fellow Christian rather than against Platonism. Tertullian himself concedes that creation out of nothing is not explicitly stated in the scriptures, but asserts that since it is not denied either, the silence on the matter implies that God does have the power to create ex nihilo, since that is more logical. ( Tertullian, Against Hermogones 21, in ANF, 3:489. )Such "logic" had escaped Athenagoras, who despite his stress on the transcendence of God, 81 in the same context explains concerning the pre-existent Son:

He came forth to be the energizing power of things, which lay like a nature without attributes, and an inactive earth, the grosser particles being mixed up with the lighter. (Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 10, in ANF, 2:133. Cf. chapters 24 and 19 (pp. 141 and 138), where he explicitly states God as an artificer (demiourgos) requires matter, but this relationship proves the priority and superiority of God)

This chaotic matter also existed before the creation. Although Athenagoras repeatedly emphasizes the disparity between matter and God, the created and the Uncreate, he did not subscribe to Tatian's view of the precreation of primal matter:

But if they are at the greatest possible remove from one another--as far asunder as is the potter and the clay (matter being the clay, and the artist the potter)--so is God, the Framer of the world, and matter, which is subservient to Him for the purpose of His art. But as the clay cannot become vessels of itself without art, so neither did matter, which is capable of taking all forms, receive, apart from God the Framer, distinction and shape and order. . . . (Athenagoras, A Plea for Christians 10, in ANF, 2:133. )

If Athenagoras was aware of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, he gives no indication of it. The widest disparity he can think of as a comparison is that between the Artificer and his materials. Clement of Alexandria, the head of the Christian philosophical school there around A.D. 200, is more problematical, since he uses apparent creation ex nihilo language, but without the later doctrinal connotations associated with such terminology. Chadwick argues that although the declaration that the world is made "out of nothing" occurs three times in the Stromata (a collection of his miscellaneous notes), his usage is similar to that of Philo, referring to the ordering of formless matter.

In each case the phrase he employs is ek me ontos, not ex ouk ontos; that is to say, it is made not from that which is absolutely non-existent, but from relative non-being or unformed matter, so shadowy and vague that it cannot be said to have the status of "being," which is imparted to it by the shaping hand of the Creator (Chadwick, Early Christian Thought, pp. 46ff. Cf. the use of the negative particle me in Romans 4:17 and 1 Corinthians 1:28.)

Nevertheless, the idea of a creation ex nihilo was being discussed in Christian intellectual circles by this time. Clement himself seems aware of the difference between an absolute creation out of nothing and creation out of primal matter in at least one passage, where he does not view it as crucial to orthodoxy. But in his "Hymn to the Paedogogus" he clearly favors the view of creation from pre-existent material. (Clement, The Instructor 3.12, in ANF, 2:296. )

Clement was apparently too cautious to advocate the unscriptural idea of creation ex nihilo to his pupils, however congenial it may have been to his Christian philosophical system. The dynamic of doctrinal transition appears also in Origen, whose stature as a theologian in the Eastern Church is often compared to that of Augustine in the West. In his early speculative treatise On First Principles, Origen retained a belief in the pre-existence of both matter and souls, but denied that these always existed of themselves; in fact he implied that creation ex nihilo was taught by the apostles and had been handed down as Church doctrine. "Nevertheless," Chadwick notes, "Origen never reaches a perfectly clear opinion on the exact status of matter in the divine purpose. . . ." (Chadwick, Early Christian Thought, p. 86.) In his later Apologetic work Against Celsus he relegated the question of uncreated matter to the sphere of physics rather than theology; (Origen, Against Celsus 4:60, in ANF, 4:525. )in other words, creation ex nihilo was not yet established as an article of the faith, although by Origen's time "it had become the prevailing theory in the Christian Church. God had created matter. He was not merely the Architect of the universe, but its Source." (Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas, p. 197. )

The Trintarian Controversy

In the third and fourth centuries the emerging Catholic Church, which experienced the reversal from official repression to adoption and support by the state, was docrinally preoccupied with defining and refining its position on the internal relationship of the God-head. What was the relationship of God the Son to God the Father? Specifically, how can the belief in the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God be reconciled with the commitment to a monotheistic faith in "the only true God" inherited from Judaism and demanded by Greek absolutism? It will be seen that the creation ex nihilo doctrine had much to do with the final formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, developed principally by Augustine, which is still the touchstone of orthodox Christianity.

As with the doctrine of creation, the subtle theological distinctions concreting the nature of the Godhead which culminated in ecumenical councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in the fourth century were not an issue in earlier discussions on the subject, at least not before the beginning of the third century. Jesus was spoken of as distinct from his Father, but nevertheless divine.(E.g., 2 Clement 1.1, in Apostolic Fathers, 1:128; Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians 18.2 and 7.2 in ibid., 1:190 and 180; Epistle of Barnabas 5.5; 6.12 and 7.2; in ibid., 1:354, 360, and 364.) As Prestige tells us, "The recognition of divine monarchy [monotheism] and the proclamation of a divine triad were originally presented as independent facts." (Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, p. 97. ) The Christian apologists were faced on the one hand with the accusation of polytheism from Judaism, (Wolfson, Philosophy of the Church Fathers, p. 362, n) and on the other by the Hellenistic interpretation of mythological gods as personified attributes or manifestations of the Supreme Unity governing the universe. (Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, pp. 7ff. ) Thus when Justin insists that the Logos (the "Word" of John 1:1-14) is numerically distinct (arithmo heteron) from the Father, (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 138 and 56, in ANF, 1:264 and 223ff. ) he is defending the Christian belief which denied strict monotheism. Likewise the use of the term triad by Theophilus of Antioch (Theophilus, To Autolychus 15, in ANF, 2:101. ) and that of trinitas by Tertullian (Tertullian, Against Praxeas 3, in ANF, 3:599. ) were affirmations of the distinction of persons, not the tri-unity which "trinity" later came to connote. (Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, p. 93. )

Nevertheless, the philosophical pressures on Christian intellectuals did not abate, and the history of Christian doctrine in the third and fourth centuries is littered with the names of "heretics" such as Sabellius, Praxeus, Noetus, and Marcellus who attempted to make the distinctions in the Godhead only nominal. This "modalism," or belief that the persons of the divine triad are mere modes of one being, was known to contemporaries as monarchianism and later as Sabellianism, after Sabellius, one of its early third-century exponents in Rome. Against this, Tertullian expounded a "governmental monarchy" which stressed the unity of the Godhead's will and power, based upon an analysis of the term monarchia as "single rule":

I am sure that monarchy has no other meaning than single and individual rule; but for all this monarchy does not, because it is the government of one, preclude him whose government it is from having a son . . . or from ministering his own government by whatever agents he will (Tertullian, Against Praxeas 3, in ANF, 2:599. Cf. Tatian, Address to the Greeks 4, in NAF, 4:66; Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 14, in ANF, 2:135; and Novatian, On the Trinity 21, in ANF, 5:643ff.)

There is only one rule of the universe, but a hierarchy of rulers, a "trinity" of persons, numerically distinct and capable of being counted. (Tertullian, Against Praxeas 2, in ANF, 3:598. Cf. Justin's terminology at note 95 above.)

Tertullian's designation of the Son as a "personum, secundum a patre [a personage, next to the Father]" (Tertullian, Against Praxeas 5 and 8, in ANF, 2:600ff and 602ff. ) is echoed by Origen, who describes the Father and the Son as "two things in respect to persons, but one in unity of thought, in harmony, and in the identity of will." (Origen, Against Celsus 7.12, in ANF 4:643ff. Thus Origen can say, "We are not afraid to speak in one sense of two Gods, in another sense of one God" (Dialogue with Heraclitus 2, cited in Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p.129). ) Origen's teaching that the Son is a deuteros theos, or secondary God (since his deity is derived from the Father who alone is uncreated), (Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, in J.P.Migne, ed., Patrologiae Graeca, 161 vols. (Paris: n.p., 1886), 14:108ff. Cf. Against Celsus 2.64, in NAF, 4:457; and On First Principles 1.3.3-5, in ibid., pp. 252ff.) is known by the technical term "subordinationism," and was taken up by the Arians in the controversy which led to Nicaea. However, Origen also stressed the absolute likeness of the Son to the Father, (Origen, First Principles 1.2.12, in ANF 4:251.) even using the term homoousios as a description of their kinship, (Quoted by Johannes Quasten, Patrology, 2 vols. (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1960), 2:78. Hoomoousios, adopted as the technical term for the likeness of the Father and the Son at the Council of Nicaea, was here used by Origen in the sense of a common specific genus. See Wolfson, Philosophy of the Church Fathers, pp.322ff.) and he originated the idea that the three persons of the Godhead are distinct hypostaseis (substances or essences) from all eternity. (Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John 2.10.75. As cited in Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 129) This concept of the "eternal generation" of the Son provided ammunition for the opponents of Arius as well, and it was this introduction of Greek metaphysical terminology which ironically led to the rejection of Origen's Neoplatonic theological framework.

According to Platonism in this period, the order of reality emanates from "the One" (God) in hierarchy, the second level being Mind or Logos, the agent of creation, and the World-Soul Third. Origen found this system this system very convenient in explaining the order of the Godhead, since the functions of the Platonic Mind seemed analogous to that of the Son of God in Christianity, as did the World-Soul Holy Spirit, Origen's teaching that the Son was "eternally generated" from the Father is also strikingly similar to the emanation of the Divine Mind in Neoplatonism. However, such a system of emanations, having no definite differentiation between creator and creation, could not be reconciled with the increasingly accepted Christian doctrine of creation ex nihil, and was rejected by both sides in the Arian controversy. Arius was the monotheist par excellence, believing in "One God, alone unbegotten, alone everlasting, . . . alone sovereign," and thus could not accept the full divinity of Christ. (Letter of Arius to Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, as cited in James Stevenson, ed., A New Eusebius (London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1970), p. 346.) Although the greatest and most perfect of all "creatures," Christ was nonetheless "alien from and utterly dissimilar to the Father's essence and being." (At least this is the way Athanasius characterizes his opponent's belief, in Oration Against the Arians 1.2.6, in NPNF-2, 4:309.) Arius had no quarrel with the firm line between the divine reality inherent in an uncreated being (God) and that of creatures: his insistence was that Christ, the "Son," belonged to the latter category. In fact the controversy further widened this theoretical gulf:

What emerged in the fourth century was a perception that no doctrine of mediating the spiritual and material (or uncreated and created) poles of the Platonic dualism could suffice if God were really infinite and incomprehensible and Christ were really God (Othis, "Cappadocian Thought," p. 114. Cf. Athanasius, Oration Against the Arians 1.13.58; 3.23.4; in NPNF-2, 4:340,395.)

Obviously this raised another problem as to how such a transcendent Saviour could be the "mediator" of mankind, but this so-called Christological controversy belongs to another level of the dispute, carried on well into the next century.

At Nicaea in 325 the general council almost unanimously agreed to condemn the position of Arius, but many of the conservative majority chafed at the prescription in the creed that the Son of God was "consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father," since it was completely foreign to scriptural terminology. (See Eusebius of Caesarea's apologetic letter to his church over the outcome, in Stevenson, A New Eusebius, pp. 364ff. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, p. 153, tells us that "philosophical analysis was needed to define precisely how the Scripture ought to be understood.") However, the formulation had the Emperor Constantine's strong backing, and the participants had little choice but to acquiesce. After all, the issue at Nicaea was not the unity of the Godhead in the Augustinian sense but the status of the divinity of the Son. As Eusebius explains, "the phrase 'of the substance' was indicative of the Son's being indeed from the Father, yet without being as if a part of Him." The Son was "not a part of His substance." ( Stevenson, A New Eusebius, p. 366.) Any other interpretation would have brought the charge of Sabellianism upon the Council, and "there is simply not a trace of Conservative panic over any supposed Sabellian association or tendency of the term homoousios," since it was not "a definition of the unity of God, but of the full and absolute deity of Christ." (Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, p. 24.) Even Athanasius, the leader of the anti-Arian party, maintained the real distinction of the Son from the Father, albeit insisting that they shared the same nature. (Athanasius, Oration Against the Arians 1.13.58; 3.23.4; in NPNF-2, 4:340, 395. )

Although the divinity of the Son was now settled in orthodox circles, the official use of the word homoousios led to further controversy, and a group of "semi-Arians" (basically the heirs of the Nicene conservatives) began advocating a modification of homoousios, to homoiousios to clarify that the Son was merely of "like substance" with the Father. During this heated and prolonged discussion Athanasius seems to have hardened his stance to assert that not merely exact resemblance but identity of substance (ousia) was intended. Thus the real doctrinal innovation of the fourth century was not the creed promulgated at the Council of Nicaea but Athanasius' later use of the word homoousios to express identity in substance. This was "a new development in the Greek Language." (Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, p. 219. He notes further (p. 268) that "the semi-Arians were substantially correct in their view that homoousios, as employed in the creed of Nicaea, really meant what they preferred to express by the word homoeousios {sic}.")

The Contribution of Augustine

While the leading theologians in the Eastern Church developed an explanation of the Godhead which emphasized the separate identity of the persons of the Trinity, and which became the basis of the decrees of the Council of Constantinople in 381, the definitive formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity in the West had to wait for Augustine, Whose masterful De Trinitate was completed around 419. It is in Augustine that we find the relationship of the tri-une God and the doctrine of creation ex nihilo fully developed. Although, like Origen, he was vastly influenced in his conception of God by the Neoplatonism of Plotinus, (James, Creation and Cosmology, pp. 93ff.) "Augustine draws his line firmly and finally between the one Maker and the many things made." (John Burnaby, Amor Dei, p. 163, as cited by Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 296. See Augustine's Confessions 7.9-11, 20-21; 12.7; trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1961), pp. 141ff., 154ff., and 284ff.) Augustine's insistence upon and exposition of the ex nihilo theory reflects his earlier struggle over the problem of evil:

Just as the Alexandrian Christians developed the idea of sole beneficent Creator in an absolute sense as a response to the Gnostic cosmological dualistic speculations, so Augustine developed the specific doctrine of ex nihilo creation in reaction to the Manichaean dualism, i.e., [according to Augustine] the world is not inherently evil because it comes from God's being. (James, Creation and Cosmology, pp. 93ff. The Manichaean system depicted Good and Evil as two independent and equal powers on the cosmic level which were in a constant struggle over the souls of men.)

Augustine's solution to the problem of evil was to deny it any essential reality: God is totally good and created everything himself out of nothing, so it must follow that there is really no evil in creation. In true Platonic fashion, Augustine insists that what we perceive as evil is really only incomplete goodness; i.e., anything less than God is imperfect, changeable, and incomplete, and to that extent unreal or illusory. See his Confessions 7.12 and 13 (Penguin ed., pp. 148ff). The irony of Augustine's position is that in attempting to avoid one dualism (Good/Evil), he sets up another (Creator/creation), which in effect becomes the same thing, since evil is defined as a lack of goodness or being, and this lack of true being is the prime characteristic of creation.

As has been noted, by Augustine's time it was well established in both East and West that being or existence in the full sense belongs to God alone. "For all substance that is not a created thing is God, and all that is not created is God." (Augustine, On the Trinity 1.6.9, in NPNF-1, 3:21. ) Because of his conception of God in terms of a single divine substance--unchangeable, incorruptible, eternal, immortal, and infinite--he excludes every hint of subordinationism and separate identity in the Godhead. "Let no separation be imagined to exist in this Trinity either in time or space, but that these three are equal and co-eternal, and absolutely of one nature." (Augustine, Letter 169, in The Fathers of the Church, 67 vols. (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1955), 12:54. Cf. On the Trinity 6.10.11, in NPNF-1, 3:102ff.) He could not understand or accept the Greek distinction between one ousia and three hypostaseis propounded by the Cappadocians, and preferred instead the formula "one essence or substance and three persons," (Augustine, On the Trinity 5.7.10; 7.5.10; in NPNF-1, 3:109ff.] ) the basic meaning behind the Greek term prosopon (=Latin persona) being that of a mask or outward visage. Consequently, everything concerning God should be expressed in the singular. Even the use of the term "three persons" bothered Augustine; he himself explains that he only employed it to avoid the charge of Sabellianism. (Augustine, On the Trinity 7.4.7-9, in NPNF-1, 3:109ff. ) As Tillich points out, Augustine's distinction of persons is "without any content"; it is used "not in order to say something, but in order not to remain silent." (Tillich, Systematic Theology, 2:944. Cf. Wolfson, Philosophy of the Church Fathers, p. 358. )

Although Augustine makes an ingenious and involved analysis of the three persons of the Trinity using internal, psychological analogies, he did not expect anyone to apprehend this transcendent Deity. In fact, such a comprehension is not within the realm of possibility:

We are speaking of God; is it any wonder if thou dost not understand? For if thou dost comprehend, He is not God. Let there be pious confession of ignorance, rather than a rash profession of knowledge. To reach God by the mind in any measure is great blessedness, but to comprehend Him is altogether impossible. (Augustine, Sermon 117.3.5, in PL, 38:663. )

After all, God is that unknowable, "wholly other" eternal reality with whom created beings have no essential kinship. "Whatever man may think, that which is made is not like Him who made it. . . . God is ineffable. . . . What is He then? I could only tell thee what He is not." (Augustine, Discourses on the Psalms 77.12, in PL, 35:1090. ) As the eminent Catholic scholar Etienne Gilson describes "the Christian world of St. Augustine":

Between "Him who is" and ourselves, there is the infinite metaphysical chasm which separates the complete self-sufficiency of His own existence from the intrinsic lack of necessity of our own existence. (Etienne Gilson, God and Philosophy (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1941), pp. 53ff.)

Romans 4:17 and "Being"

Some comments seen in the New testament are mistakenly seen by classical theists as expressions of support for the idea of ex nihilo creation. Romans 4:17 and Hebrews 11:3 are the pasages most commonly used for that purpose. (Erickson, Christian Theology, 369.) In doing so, classical theists misinterpret these passages. That is not surprising since they are quite difficult to translate. They are practically unintelligible except in the original Greek, and then only if the reader has a clear understanding of teh people to whom they were addressed and the culture that prevailed at the time.

Romans 4:17 in the KJV reads in pertinent part as follows: "God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were." The NASB attempts the following translation of this text: "God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist." In the footnoes to the NASB, it is noted that the literal translation of the last phrase reads as follows: "calls the things which do not exist as existing." This passage is the source of orthodox claims that God "spoke" the worlds into existence. ( Morey, Battle of the Gods, 155) The claim is stated thus, by Dr. Morey: "We read that God cals things into being by his word." The assumption is that this means God created them out of nothing by simply forming the words that commanded it to be so.

That is not a reasonable interpretation of these passages, even using the translations given above. If God "spoke" everything into existence in the sense of creating it out of nothing, why didn't He simply make it appear in its final form with His first words? Why does Moses describe six scientifically logical stages, or "days," of creation? If God had created everything out of nothing, there would be no reason for Him to employ such a step-by-step approach. This seems especially true if God also created space and time as part of the bargain. He would not have had to engage in any "mediate or derivative creation"(Erickson, Christian Theology, 367-368) such as that decribed by Moses in Genesis 1 and 2.

Even the translations of Romans 4:17 given above do not teach creation ex nihilo. The language of this verse, as it is translated in most Bibles, would best be interpreted as a statement that God gave instruction to others, e.g., Christ, to carry out the work of creation He had planned. That plan clearly involved the use if pre-existing materials (Gen 1:2).

Unfortunately, none of the translations given above is precisely literal. That is because an exact translation appears, at first, to be unintelligible. The translators have attempted to render the passage so that it makes some sense in english, and have assumed that the passage is talking about the method of God's creation. But the literal wording of the Greet Text does not address the issue of creation at all. The word-for-word translation is, "God, the (one) making the live and the dead, and calling the things not being as being." (The Interlinear Bible, Jay Green, trans).

What does this mean? to understand this expression, one must remember that Paul's letter was addressed to the Romans, a highly hellenized society in his time. It must also be noted that the word "eing" was a term of art in Greek philosophy. It had a specific meaning in Greek metaphysics. "Being" was the word the Platonists used to describe that portion of the metaphysical universe they considered the only true reality, the Pleroma where God dwells. Everything else was "not being" or "becoming." That which was "not being" comprised the sensory universe perceived by Men as reality, but believed by the Greek philosophers to be an illusion.

This passage, which discusses Abraham, the father of the Jews, is actually giving the Lord's view of metaphysics. What the literal wording would say to a Hellenized audience is that God declares "the things not being," i.e., the sensory universe that the Greeks thought of as an illusion, as "being," i.e., the universe they believed to be reality. The Hellenized Romans of the time were told that the God of Abraham, who rasies the dead, declares that the sensory universe is reality.(Hopkins, How Greek Philosophy Corrupted the Christian Concept of God, 293)

Hebrews 11:3 Proves Ex Nihilo?

Hebrews 11:3 in the NASB reads: "By faith we understand that the ages were planned bythe word of God so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible." Like Romans 4:17, even this translation does not teach creation out of nothing. It could be seen as a confirmation of modern scientific views that visible matter is composed of particles too small to be seen by the naked eye. But the translation given abive fails to reflect the true import of the original Greek.

The Book of Hebrews is believed by scholars to have been written by someone very familiar with Hellenized Judaism as taught by Philo of Alexandria. The Hebrews to whom this letter was addressed may have been those of that city. There are many internal indication that the book was written, in oart, as a refutation of the false notions then rampant among the Jews at that location.(Nash, Christinaity and the Hellenistic World, 89-112.) This verse should be interpreted in that context.

The English text says that "what is seen" was not made out of things "which are visible." The Greek words translated "what is seen" are ta blepomena These words relate to activity of the human eye. They describe the operations of that sensory organ in the sensible world, the world Men perceive with their sense of sight.

The phrase, "which are visible," comes from the Greek word phainomenon, the very word Plato used to indicate his view that this world is mere appearance, a phenonmenon, an apparition. That word is negated in this verse, meaning that the passage is denying the phenomenal nature of "what is seen," i.e., the sensible world.

Thus, the verse teaches that the world of the senses, the real world in which men live, the world they see with their eyes, is not "phenomenon," i.e., illusion. It is not made out of the imaginings of men, as Paramenides claimed, nore from the imaginings of God, as the Platonists taught. this pasage could be rendered, "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the command of God so that what Men see with their eyes is not an illusion." this declaration is a direct refutation of the Greek concept of metaphysics, and appears to have conveyed that understanding to the Hellenized Jews of Alexandria.

Some classical theists point to the Greek word ginomai, a form of which appears in Hebrews 11:3, as "proof" that the heavens and earth were made out of nothing. Ginomai is occasionally translated "made," as in Hebrew 11:3. The basic meaning is "come into being," but it is translated quite broadly in the New Testament. Bauer lists four ways the word is used alone as a verb: (1) tobe born or begotten; (2) to be made or created; (3) to happen, or take place; and (4) of persons and things that change their nature, to indicate their entering a new condition, i.e., to become something new.(Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, s.v.) The last meaning is especially appropriate in light of Genesis 1:2, but in each case, the meaning is contrary to the nations of classical theism


The history of Christian thought can yield no equal to Augustine in resolving the dilemma of the doctrine of God, either in brilliance or influence. His emphasis on one God manifested in three persons rather than three persons in one Godhead has remained decisive for the Christian Church in the West to this day, and almost without exception its creeds reflect his paradoxical language:

Those three, therefore, both seem to be mutually determined to each other, and are in themselves infinite. Now here, in corporeal things, one thing alone is not as much as three things together, and two are something more than one, but in that supreme Trinity one is as much as three together, nor are two anything more than one. And in themselves they are infinite. So both each are in each, and all in all, and each in all, all in all, and all are one. (Augustine, On the Trinity 6.10.12, in NPNF-1, 3:103. Cf. notes 1,2,4, 126 above)

This orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity, as we have seen, may be understood to a great extent as a consequence and corollary of the unscriptural concept of a creation ex nihilo. This understanding of creation did not gain acceptance until after A.D. 200, but it colors almost all subsequent theological discussion, culminating in the definitive writings of Augustine two centuries later. When the Church found itself on the path of philosophy rather than that of revelation, it had to travel the whole road and history has recorded no clearer documentation of the department from the primitive faith held by the apostles than the acceptation of this magical God of philosophy who calls into existence things out of nothing. It is not a doctrine which enhances one's understanding of God, but must be accepted strictly on the authority of the Church, because it defies all natural experience and logic. In the words of one modern historian, "It is therefore absurd, meaningless, unverifiable and a waste of words to ask reason how that was brought into existence which previously had no existence." (John H. Gay, "Four Medieval Views of Creation," Harvard Theological Review 56 (1963): 271. ) In like manner the companion of ex nihilo theology, the doctrine of the Trinity, hardly fosters an intimate personal relationship with the loving Father in Heaven taught by Jesus. Adolph Harnack noted the disastrous results this supposed triumph of Christian philosophy:

The educated laity . . . regarded the orthodox formula rather as a necessary evil and as an unexplainable mystery than as an expression of their Faith. The victory of the Nicene Creed was a victory of the priests over the faith of the Christian people. . . . The people must simply believe the Faith; they accordingly did not live in this Faith, but in that Christianity of the second rank which is represented in the legends of the saints, in apocalypses, in image-worship, in the veneration of angels and martyrs, in crosses and amulets, in the Mass regarded as magical worship, and in sacramental worship of all sorts. Christ as the homoousios became a dogmatic form of words; and in place of this the bones of the martyrs became living saints, and the shades of the old dethroned gods, together with their worship, revived once more. (Adolph Harnack, History of Dogma, trans from the third German edition (1900) by Neil Buchanan, 7 vols. in 4 (New York: Dover Publications, 1961):106.)

Orthodox Christianity still labors under the burden of this excess philosophical baggage, and perhaps the consequences would be even more serious if Christians actually understood and believed the doctrines officially proclaimed by their churches. Studies have shown that most churchgoers today cling to the belief in a personal God to whom they can relate. Even Freud could recognize the absurdity of the theologian's logic vis-a-vis meaningful religion, and his indictment of their folly is the irony of an atheist who acknowledges the superiority of the testimony of the Prophets over the philosophies of men:

Philosophers . . . give the name of "God" to some vague abstraction which they have created for themselves; having done so they can pose before all the world as deists, as believers in God, and they can even boast that they have recognized a higher, purer concept of God, notwithstanding that their God is now nothing more than an insubstantial shadow and no longer the mighty personality of religious doctrines (Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion)

Joseph Smith taught that the first principle of revealed religion is to know for a certainty the character of God, (HC, 6:305. ) and his reaffirmation of Deity as the loving, personal Father of the scriptures stands in conspicuous contrast to the confusion and obscurity of traditional and modern theologies. Just as the orthodox doctrine of an incomprehensible God who creates ex nihilo is clearly odds with the prophetic proclamation in both the Old and New Testaments, by the same measure the Latter-day Saint conception of divine creation in terms of the organization of eternal man provides a remarkable commentary on Joseph Smith's claim to be a prophet of the Living God and on his work in the restitution of all things.

LDS sources not mentioned:

Barry Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church, Joseph Smith and Early Christianity--graduated magna cum laude from Brigham Young University , and currently a doctoral candidate in geochemistry at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Richard R. Hopkins, How Greek Philosophy Corrupted the Christian Concept of God--Biblical Mormonism-- Former State attorney in California, now runs a radio talk show Religion Today

Keith Norman-- Ex Nihilo: the Development of the Doctrines of God and Creation in Early Christianity-- master's degree in Early Christian History from Harvard in 1973; he is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University.

What does "Eternal, Immutable, and Uncreate" Mean in Relation to God?