Do we have to understand Genesis Chapter 1 as depicting “creation out of nothing”? The fact is that it has not always been interpreted in this way. Justin Martyr, for example, thought that the “chaos” over which the Spirit hovered was indeterminate matter on which God imposed form and order. Some medieval Jewish texts retain views of creation which do not imply that the universe came into being “out of nothing,” and so do some Islamic traditions.
This important work challenges the generally unquestioned assumption that the doctrine of “creation out of nothing” was inherited by Christianity along with the Jewish scriptures which the Church adopted.
The thesis is advanced that the doctrine arose in the second century CE, and that the Gnostic Basilides was the first to advance the idea as a theory. In the Christian mainstream a shift took place between Justin Martyr, who accepted the notion of pre-existent matter, and Theophilus of Antioch. It was the impact of fresh philosophy which stimulated this specific theoretical response to the question of how and whence things came into being, as distinct from the scriptural affirmation that things which did not exist before had been fashioned or formed by almighty God, the King of the Universe.
There is no other study which concentrates on tracing this particular piece of intellectual history—a development which had crucial repercussions for subsequent Christological debates.
This book is also part of the Theology and Doctrine Collection (16 Vols.)
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