"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).

The official doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that God took existing, unorganized matter and formed it into an earth. However, this is in direct opposition to what the rest of Christianity believes. They teach as doctrine that God created the earth out of nothing. That is, in the beginning, absolutely nothing existed except Him. Then God gave the word and suddenly light and matter sprung into existence. More than that, the earth itself, along with planets and stars, suddenly came into being. They weren't formed or shaped or produced from previously existing matter; they were all created out of nothing!

In addition to that, many Christian teachers feel that it is akin to blasphemy to think any differently. In their mind, to say that matter existed prior to the beginning of the earth takes away from God's honor and glory because then He is not the only eternal power of the universe. Therefore those who believe in the pre-existing matter theory are to be considered as pagans and heathens. Here is how several Bible commentators explain this subject:

Chuck Smith Study Guide for Genesis: "The Hebrew word translated 'create' is 'bara' meaning 'to make something out of nothing'. Thereafter, the word 'asah' is used, which means 'to assemble existing materials into an order'."

David Guzik Study Guide for Genesis: "What did God create the world out of? The Hebrew word bara (create) is specific: He created the world out of nothing; not out of Himself... Men cannot 'create' in the sense the term is used in Genesis 1:1. We can only 'fashion' or 'form' things out of existing material."

John Calvin Commentary on Genesis: "When God in the beginning created the heaven and the earth, the earth was empty and waste. He [Moses] moreover teaches by the word 'created,' that what before did not exist was now made; for he has not used the term 'yatsar', which signifies to frame or form but 'bara', which signifies to create. Therefore his meaning is, that the world was made out of nothing. Hence the folly of those is refuted who imagine that unformed matter existed from eternity; and who gather nothing else from the narration of Moses than that the world was furnished with new ornaments, and received a form of which it was before destitute. This indeed was formerly a common fable among heathens."

Matthew Henry Commentary on Genesis: "God created it, that is, made it out of nothing. There was not any pre-existent matter out of which the world was produced. The fish and fowl were indeed produced out of the waters and the beasts and man out of the earth; but that earth and those waters were made out of nothing. By the ordinary power of nature, it is impossible that any thing should be made out of nothing; no artificer can work, unless he has something to work on. But by the almighty power of God it is not only possible that something should be made of nothing (the God of nature is not subject to the laws of nature), but in the creation it is impossible it should be otherwise, for nothing is more injurious to the honor of the Eternal Mind than the supposition of eternal matter. Thus the excellency of the power is of God and all the glory is to him."

There are others who also point to the second verse of Genesis which reads: "And the earth was without form and void." Since nothing can exist in a void, some scholars insist that this is further proof that God created everything from nothing, or, in other words, from a void. All these comments and many others that could be cited sound reasonable and intelligent, but more than that, they sound very scholarly. Surely so many honorable and learned men can't all be wrong about this. Or can they? Let's examine the evidence and see what we find.

At the heart of this debate are the meaning of the Hebrew words bara {baw'-raw}, yatsar {yaw'-tsaw}, asah {aw'-saw} and bohuw {bo'-hoo}. To determine their definition, we will use the commonly accepted authority of Strongs Concordance.

According to this source, we learn that [#0922] "bohuw" means: emptiness, void or waste. Placing this word in context, Genesis 1:2 can more properly be understood as saying: Since the earth in it's beginning had no form, it was void of shape. At it's beginning it also contained no vegetation or animals, thus making it empty or void of life. In other words, in the beginning, the earth was a wasteland or "bohuw".

The word [#03335] "yatsar" means: to form, fashion, frame, or make. The word [#06213] "asah" means: to do, fashion, accomplish, make, work, or produce. Notice that the definition of these two words are almost identical. Furthermore, in both cases the clear implication is of taking something that already exists and forming it, or shaping it or working on it with the idea of producing something different than what it was originally. In regards to these two words, the above quoted scholars agree.

According to Strongs Concordance, the word [#01254] "bara" means: to create, shape, form, or fashion. This is basically the same definition of "yatsar" and "asah", except for the word "create" But does this word somehow infer that something came into existence from nothing? There is no mention or implication in Strongs Concordance of such a concept in the definition of this Hebrew word as the Christian scholars proclaim.

But, for the sake of argument, let's accept the notion that it does incorporate that idea. Then, if that is the case, every place we see the word "bara" in the scriptures we must conclude that it is always to be understood as meaning that something is being created out of nothing. If the writers of the Bible don't mean to convey this impression, they could instead use the words "yatsar" and "asah."

To test this theory of Christian scholars, all we need do is study the scriptures to see how these three Hebrew words are used in the Bible.

Isaiah 43:1 reads: "But now thus saith the Lord that created [01254] (bara) thee, O Jacob, and he that formed [03335] (yatsar) thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called by thy name; thou mine." According to the Christian scholars, we would have to conclude that God created Jacob out of nothingness, but He formed, fashioned, or made Israel from existing material (people).

But if that is the correct interpretation, then how are we to understand Isaiah 43:15, which reads, "I am the Lord, your Holy One, the creator [01254] (bara) of Israel, your King." Did God make (yatsar) Israel out of something or did He create (bara) Israel out of nothing? Isaiah used both words to describe how God made Israel.

On the other hand, if all three of these words mean basically the same thing (and are therefore interchangeable with one another), then Isaiah 43:6,7, makes sense when it says: "Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; even every one that is called by my name: for I have created [01254] (bara) him for my glory, I have formed [03335] (yatsar) him; yea, I have made[06213] (asah) him" (italics added). Here we see that Isaiah uses all three words in describing what God has done to those who have called on His name. As such, there can be no confusion as to whether God created something out of nothing because the implication in this scripture is that God has taken an existing person and has created a new personality in them for His glory.

Consider also the words of David when he wrote, "Create [01254] (bara) in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalms 51:10). Did the psalmist mean to ask God to create within him a clean heart from nothing? Or does he plead for the Lord to take his existing sinful heart and turn it into a clean one? The answer can be found in Psalms 33:15: "He fashioneth [03335] (yatsar) their hearts alike; he considereth all their works." Once again we see that the word "bara" and "yatsar" are used interchangeably because they mean the same thing.

The Christian scholars confidently declare that the word create (bara) is to be correctly interpreted as specifically meaning making something from nothing. Yet in 1 Samauel 2:29 the Lord said to Eli, "Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honourest thy sons above me, to make yourselves fat [01254] (bara) with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people?" (italics added). The Lord had commanded the Israelites to offer up sacrifices unto the Lord. Yet, when they did, the sons of Eli, the High Piest, used the best part of the sacrificed offerings for themselves, and in so doing, have taken the existing meat, eaten it and thereby created (bara) fat upon their own bodies. Does this sound like the priests made themselves fat from nothing? The clear understanding of this scripture shows exactly the opposite happened.

After the Israelites left Egypt and entered into the promised land, Joshua divided it among the twelve tribes. However, "the children of Joseph spake unto Joshua saying, Why hast thou given me but one lot and one portion to inherit, seeing I am a great people, forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto? And Joshua answered them, If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country and cut down [01254] (bara) for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants if mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee... the mountain shall be thine; for it is a wood, and thou shalt cut it down [01254] (bara): and the outgoings of it shall be thine: for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong" (Joshua 17:14,15,18, italics added).

To paraphrase what Joshua told the tribe of Joseph, he said, "Go up upon the existing wooded mountain and there create (bara) your own homeland by cutting down the trees and driving out the Canaanites. Does this sound like the tribe of Joseph is being told to make something out of nothing? Yet the Hebrew word which the Bible uses to describe Joshua's directive is "bara," not "yatsar" or "asah."

In Genesis 2:7 we're told: "And the Lord God formed [03335] (yatsar) man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Man was not created out of nothing. He was formed from existing matter -- "the dust of the ground." In Genesis 2:19 we further learn: "And out of the ground the Lord God formed [03335] (yatsar) every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them." As one of the above Christian scholars have stated, both man and beasts were formed from existing matter, rather than being created out of nothing.

Yet in Genesis 1:27 we're told: "And God created [01254] (bara) great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good... So God created [01254] (bara) man in his own image, in the image of God created [01254] (bara) he him; male and female created [01254] (bara) he them" (verses 21,27, italics added).

If the word "create" means making something from nothing, then did God "create" man and the animals from nothing or did he form man and the beasts of the field from the dust of the ground?

And what about the earth? Christian scholars claim that since God created the earth that means the dry land and the seas were not made from any pre-existing matter. But in Isaiah 45:12 God said, "I have made [06213] (asah) the earth, and created [01254] (bara) man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded" (italics added). If "asah" and "bara" mean two different things, then the Bible contradicts itself, for, in this verse, Isaiah claims the Lord told him He made the earth out of existing material, but He created man out of nothing.

Did the Lord create (bara) the earth out of nothing or did He form it (yatsar, asah) from existing matter? The Bible tell us, "I [God] form [03335] (yatsar) the light... God himself that formed [03335] (yatsar) the earth and made [06213] (asah) it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed [03335] (yatsar) it to be inhabited" (Isaiah 45:7,18). "The sea is his, and he made [06213] (asah) it: and his hands formed [03335] (yatsar) the dry land" (Psalms 95:5). Furthermore, in the New Testament, it specifically states: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made [not created out of nothing] by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:1-4, italics added).

Again, we see that the Bible uses all three Hebrew words to describe the creation of the earth, and they are used interchangeably. The clear implication is that the word "create" (bara), "made" (asah) and "form" (yatsar) all mean the same thing. Therefore, it is equally clear that both the earth and all living things upon it were formed, shaped, fashioned, and produced in the same way a builder takes materials and makes a house.

In fact the Lord Himself, in describing how He created the earth, used such terms as "I laid the foundations of the earth," "stretched the line upon it," "laid the measures thereof," and "laid the corner stone thereof" (Job 38:4-6). Furthermore, we're told that God "hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance" (Isaiah 40:10). Although this is all said in a figurative sense, still, it is not the kind of language one would use when referring to something being made out of nothing. Yet, it is precisely the kind of words one would use to symbolize making something from pre-existing material.

When we closely examine the scriptures we find no evidence to support the assertion that God created the earth out of nothing. There is no scriptural confirmation for the theory that matter did not exist before the beginning of the earth. In fact, the Bible itself states in many places that the earth was made, formed, fashioned, and produced in the same way that anything else is created. A study of the Hebrew language also shows that there is no unique word to describe something being made without pre-existing matter.

Then where do scholars get this concept from? I guess we could say, in all honesty and sincerity, that they created the idea out of nothing.

NOTE: The belief in an ex nihilo creation among Rabbinic teachers cannot be found before the Hellenistic period (4th-1st century B.C.), and there is no evidence of this doctrine being taught in the Christian church until the end of the second century A.D. On the other hand, the records do show that in ancient times there were both Rabbinic Jews and Christian leaders who did teach that God created the heavens and the earth from pre-existent matter.

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