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Definition

Creation is an act of God alone, by which, for his own glory, he brings into existence everything in the universe, things that had no existence prior to his creative word.

Summary

Creation is the act by which the Bible introduces to God. It is an act of God alone, by which, for his own glory, he brings into existence everything in the universe, things that had no existence prior to his creative word. In creation, we see God’s lordship on display in his control over all things, his authority over all the universe, and his presence in every part of creation. The doctrine of creation should elicit praise from all of his creatures and offers significant parallels to our redemption as well. While significant questions are still disputed, such as the nature of the six days of creation, the age of the earth, and the validity of evolution, Genesis is clear that God alone can take the credit for the creation and continual upholding of all things that exist.

When Scripture first introduces us to God in Genesis 1:1, it presents us not with a definition of God or a list of attributes but an act: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That act nevertheless tells us much about who God is and how he is different from the world he has made. Indeed, this verse presents us with the biblical worldview in a nutshell: Reality is twofold. Everything must be understood within the context of a distinction between Creator and creature.

Therefore, it is misleading to understand the world, as did the Greek philosophers, as “Being” in general. There are two distinct realities, and they cannot be mixed together or confused with one another. All of our knowledge about the world is qualified by this distinction. There is divine being and created being, different in their attributes, powers, actions, rights and obligations.

The term creation applies both (1) to God’s original act of bringing being out of nothing (ex nihilo) (Gen. 1:1) and (2) to God’s subsequent actions bringing structure to created being (Gen. 1:2–2:3). These two phases are sometimes called original and subsequent creation. A good definition of creation, therefore, will embrace both of these: Creation is an act of God alone, by which, for his own glory, he brings into existence everything in the universe, things that had no existence prior to his creative word. Some have defined creation as “the continual dependence of everything on God,” but such definitions fail to anchor the concept as Scripture does in the events of Genesis 1. Of course, creation is indeed continually dependent on God, but this fact is best discussed under the headings of providence, preservation, and concurrence.

What follows are some of the main contexts in which Scripture speaks of creation. These shall introduce additional clarifications into the concept.

Lordship

The chief name of God in Scripture is Yahweh, which English translators render as Lord around 7000 times. God’s lordship includes his control over all things, his authority over all the universe, and his presence in every part of creation. God’s work of creation underscores his lordship in all three of these respects.

Creation establishes God’s ownership of all things in heaven and earth (Exod. 20:11; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 146:5; Acts 14:15; 17:24; Col. 1:16; Rev. 4:11; 10:6; 14:7). Because all things are his, there is no limitation to his controlling power.

It also establishes his authority, his right to tell all creatures what to do. In Genesis 1, the very method of creation is his word: he commands and things obediently come into being (see also Ps. 33:6, 9; John 1:3; Col. 1:15–16). Jesus shows that he himself is the creator, as his commands still the waves (Mark 4:35–41) and bring healing (Luke 7:1–10).

Creation is also the basis of God’s presence in all places of the universe. Contrary to some false views of transcendence, God is not far removed from any of us, for we exist by the direct touch of his creative power. Contrary to some false views of immanence, we are not God, for we are his creatures. Since God has created all things out of nothing, he has touched everything in his creation directly. There is no “chain of being,” no continuum between God and the world, but a duality of divine and created being in which God creates and governs us by his direct touch.

Worship

God’s creation, therefore, is a universal revelation of his lordship. Confronted by that lordship, by his control, authority and presence, our obligatory response is worship. Often in Scripture, consideration of creation motivates worship (Neh. 9:6; Ps. 8:3–9; 33:6–9; 95:3–7; 146:5–6; Rev. 14:7). Paul tells the Gentiles at Lystra and Athens that the Lord has created all things, and that therefore they should not worship men or idols (Acts 14:15; 17:24-25). How absurd it is that men “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:25)! God has made the world for his own glory; therefore, when we consider creation, we should bring him praise (Rom. 11:36).

Redemption

Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9). Since creation is a vivid revelation of God’s lordship, we should expect significant parallels between creation and our redemption from sin. In Genesis, the story of creation anticipates God’s deliverance of Israel from bondage and their establishment as his own special people, his new creation (see Ps. 89; Isa. 43:1–7, 14–15; Jer. 33:20–25). In the New Testament, our salvation in Christ is a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). As God originally brought the universe out of nothing, so he brings to us in Christ new life out of the death of sin. The faith of Abraham, the great model of Christian faith, was a faith in God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17).

Disputed Questions

The Six Days

Genesis 1 presents what we have called subsequent creation as occurring in six days, culminating in a day of divine rest. According to Exodus 20:8–11, this pattern provides a model for the human work week and Sabbath rest. That the Sabbath is also a day of worship reinforces what I said earlier about creation as a motivation for human worship. Theologians have disputed the length of these days. Some have argued that they are “literal” or “ordinary” days; others have said that they each represent long geologic ages. Still others hold to what is called the “framework hypothesis,” namely that the whole narrative is a literary device and makes no chronological claims.

The Age of the Earth

The genealogies in Genesis of Adam, Noah, Abraham, and others suggest a “young earth” view, that the world is somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 years old. But many theologians have said that in such questions we should defer to the present scientific consensus, that the earth is something like 4.5 billion years old and the origin of homo sapiens (modern man) was about 200,000 years ago. This is called the “old earth” view. Some have also held mediating positions, observing places in the Genesis narratives where there may be gaps in the apparent chronology, allowing for a longer period of time than the young earth view supposes, or suggesting problems with the usual ways of measuring geologic time.

Evolution

A third area of dispute concerns whether the creatures mentioned in Genesis 1 (especially Adam and Eve) were directly created by God or whether each kind of life (including mankind) developed from previous kinds by a process similar to that described in the theory of evolution. Whatever one concludes about questions #1 and #2 above, it is very difficult to argue from Genesis that Adam and Eve are anything other than special creations, since (1) according to Genesis 2:7, God made Adam from earth and brought him to life by a special inbreathing. In verses 21–22, the creation of woman (from the rib of Adam) is even more obviously a supernatural event. (2) The frequent repetition in Genesis 1 of “according to their kinds” indicate at least that there are divinely imposed limits on what can result from reproduction. It is difficult to reconcile any such limits with the theory of evolution. (3) The theory of evolution appears to be a generalization of the principle that species change according to their inherent genetic possibilities in response to change in environments. That principle is called “microevolution,” and it seems to be well-established scientifically. But whether that principle can be universally generalized to explain all differences in life forms, even beyond existing genetic possibilities (“macroevolution”) is dubious (see John Frame, Systematic Theology, 195–203, 803-06).