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Creation by Decree or from Nothing


While present in other traditions (such as the Mayan creation story), the concept of creation from nothing (creatio ex nihilo) is most closely associated with the creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:4a. This story was probably given its final form in the sixth or fifth century BCE, although it may have existed in oral tradition for some time before it was written down. While there are some similarities in this account to other creation stories, it differs from other creation accounts in several significant ways:

1. God does not fashion beings and objects out of pre-existing material. Rather the Creator simply “speaks them into existence.” (“God said, “Let there be light . . . and there was light. . . ”).

2. There is no account of the creation of other gods or divine beings. It is inferred from this that no object and no being is co-eternal with the Creator God.

3. In Genesis 1, there is no conflict or struggle between God and other beings. God alone wills the creation and there is no power that can resist God’s will. God is conceived of as all-powerful, not needing anyone or anything else to create the cosmos.

4. Humanity is given a very, very high status. Human beings are created in the image of the Creator and are given dominion over the earth. (Contrast to the Enuma Elish in which humans are created to serve the gods).

5. The creation, being the result of God’s will, is not imperfect or flawed; rather it is declared to be “good.”

A few other points about the Genesis 1 story should be noted. The story also functions as an etiology; that it is explains why certain things are done. In this case, it explains why the Sabbath is observed. The Sabbath exists because God rested on the seventh day. Therefore, humans are to do the same. In so doing, humans commune with God not only in creating, but also in resting. The Genesis story thus establishes an order for the natural world with human beings at a special place of honor; it also orders time and establishes a sacred, “timeless” time known as the Sabbath.

Livingston also notes the probability that a separate creation story begins in Genesis 2.4b. This conclusion is based on the observation that the story in Genesis 2:4b and following suggests a different sequence for creation, and uses a different designation for God. In this story, it appears that the focus is an explanation of a social order that includes marriage. God creates woman out of the side ("rib" is a bad translation) of the original human being. Therefore, woman and man join together as one since they were originally one being.

Regardless of whether one accepts the presence of more than one creation story in Genesis, it is significant that both stories see the original creation as good. It is only human actions that bring imperfection and corruption into the created order. The subsequent chapters of Genesis explain how evil was introduced and became entrenched in the created order.