“In the beginning…” What was really there? 9

This began as an email reply to my old college friend who came across this recent interview with John Walton on Jesus Creed. That link is the third in a series of interviews with Walton based upon his book In the Beginning, God: Creation, Culture, and the Spiritual Life. I was going to leave it as a short email, since others have said much more on the topic (see below) but then I came across this comic in today’s batch of funnies and thought I would share it all. Enjoy!

Frank & Ernest

Well I knew a blogging colleague had commented on this…back in May of 2008. I may not get to my blog post so check out his (Dr. Chris Heard): http://www.heardworld.com/higgaion/?p=1027

In short, I do believe that creatio ex nihilo is something for which the Bible itself never actually argues. It simply says what it says (and it never says, “Out of nothing God created…”) The sticking point is, of course, how we understand the very first verse. I tend to agree with many others that v. 1 is an introductory statement. “This is a story about God creating the heavens and the earth.” (A paraphrase, not intended as a translation.)

It then goes on to say (using RSV for ease), “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Already existing then is “the earth” (it is formless but it is there, “void” is not the best rendering, think “empty” as in a wasteland, not void as in complete absence of anything) and “the deep” which is the waters. So these items are already there when God begins doing his thang.

It is worth noting (as someone did recently somewhere, on a blog I read perhaps?) that there are many other (presumably) created things for which we have no origin stories, most notably the bene ha elohim (“sons of God”) and/or angels.

I don’t think that a non ex nihilo reading removes anything from God in the least. It just recognizes that the story of Gen. 1-2 is not the beginning of “everything” it is just the beginning of our story.

There is more that I could say and perhaps another time I will pick up the theme (and just to be clear, the above section in quotes is in fact myself, simply pasted from my email).


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9 thoughts on ““In the beginning…” What was really there?

  • Drew Tatusko

    you find the right comic all the time 🙂

    i first read this bit in von rad’s still masterful commentary. one of the few i can just…read…for pleasure even!

    we seem to, in the west, assume the lens from anselm is just what the text means – out of nothing. but, i forget who argued this elsewhere in the biblioblogsphere, if we read genesis as a text of worship where god’s activity is primarily order out of chaos, it changes everything – including how we make sense of evolution.

    it sounds more like the order between god and humankind that the temple represents. that is, the cosmos is a place of worship and ordered for that purpose. i think that actually adds to the text a lot since we are no longer burdened to read it with a very messy baconian scientific framework (which renders either the reading of the text or the science pretty absurd.)

    oddly, or predictably, i have brought this line of argument up with many an atheist and many a fundamentalist before and both have often rejected it with virtually the same language. they seem to be stuck in a hermeneutical rut…

  • Allen Watson

    Hi, Chris,

    Really enjoyed this. I’ve been getting back into the Bible this year after a hiatus of about 20 years. I left off pretty much when I was a frustrated fundamentalist, went thru New Age-ness, 7 years as a Buddhist, and now firmly ensconced in a Unity church, which embraces the Bible as its primary source, but interpreted metaphorically and metaphysically, rather than literally. It’s been an experience reading the Bible again without blinders, seeing the parallel and not quite harmonious accounts of things, and noticing the old assumptions, like “out of nothing”, falling away. I’m currently enjoying a book, “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time,” by Malcolm Borg.


  • Allen Watson

    I followed the link for that book, “In the Beginning…”, and found you attributed it to the wrong author. Walton’s interviewer recommends it, but the author is Marva Dawn, not Walton.