That God created the universe ‘from nothing’ (ex nihilo) has been a distinctive Christian claim almost from the beginning. The phrase is, on the face of it, an odd one: it is as though ‘nothing’ were a sort of ghostly raw material for the divine act of creating. But the ‘ex nihilo’ phrase long ago was accepted as a shorthand way of saying: ‘from no prior materials’. The doctrine itself only gradually took shape over more than a thousand years. In this chapter, I propose to sketch in broad outline some of the main features of that long gestation period. It lends itself readily to a threefold division: creation in the Old Testament; creation ex nihilo in the early Christian Church; creation of ‘all together’ in St Augustine.
CREATION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The majestic chapters with which the Bible opens could easily give the impression that cosmogony, the question of cosmic origins, was of major concern from the beginning to the writers of the Old Testament. But this was by no means the case. The two ‘creation’ chapters date from very different periods of Israel's history. Genesis 2, much the older, dates back perhaps as far as the tenth-century-bc Israel of David and Solomon. It deals primarily with the origin of man and woman, and the role of Yahweh in their making. Though Yahweh is said to have already made the heavens and the earth, nothing more is added about cosmic origins.
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