Created out of water
I'm rather enjoying my break this summer, but I did want to share one thought on a NT understanding of creation.
A while ago I noted that (I think) most OT scholars think Genesis 1 – together with the other known myths in Akkadian literature – reflects a belief that creation was not there understood as creation ex nihilo, but rather as the command of order on chaos. This view reflects a more popular reading of Genesis 1:1 as 'In the beginning when God created' or 'in the beginning of God's creation, the earth being ...'. 'The narrative', as OT scholar John Goldingay argues, 'indeed presupposes the existence of matter, of raw material for God to use' (Old Testament Theology. Volume 1: Israel's Gospel [Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2003], 80).
Rather interestingly, though many jump to passages in Paul to defend creation ex nihilo in the NT (which I suspect only suggest the seeds for a later ex nihilo doctrine), such as Romans 4:17, have you ever meditated on 2 Peter 3:5?
'They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water'
Richard Bauckham comments in his Word commentary:
'According to the creation account in Gen 1, and in accordance with general Near Eastern myth, the world—sky and earth—merged out of a primeval ocean (Gen 1:2, 6–7, 9; cf. Ps 33:7; 136:6; Prov 8:27–29; Sir 39:17; Herm. Vis. 1:3:4). The world exists because the waters of chaos, which are now above the firmament, beneath the earth and surrounding the earth, are held back and can no longer engulf the world. The phrase ἐξ ὕδατος ("out of water") expresses this mythological concept of the world's emergence out of the watery chaos, rather than the more "scientific" notion, taught by Thales of Miletus, that water is the basic element out of which everything else is made (cf. Clem. Hom. 11:24:1)' (Bauckham, R. J., Jude, 2 Peter, p.297).
I find it particularly interesting that the context of 2 Peter 3 links this to God's faithfulness to his promises, which once again links God's faithfulness to his covenant to the whole of creation. But in terms of creation, what are we to make of the (later) doctrine of ex nihilo in light of such biblical themes. One can either:
- Reject ex nihilo as a doctrine in light of scripture, which would, for example, perhaps help deal with the knotty problem of theodicy. 'God did not created chaos', it could be argued, his creation power was its limiting.
- Argue that ex nihilo is an entirely new doctrinal development, yet can be embraced as a correct doctrine on the basis of the Spirit's guidance of the church
- Maintain that ex nihilo, while a later development, is consistent with seeds of truth already to be found in the NT and Apocrypha. This the doctrine reflects a legitimate and further nuanced development of the understanding of creation (ex nihilo only being clearly formulated, so maintain I think the majority, in the 2nd century AD). Perhaps the church's developing formulations of Trinitarian faith is an inadequate potential comparison.