I read with great interest Bryce Christensen’s “Before the Big Bang” in the March 1986 issue. In what is other wise an excellent review, I must bring your attention to a most grievous error. Mr. Christensen writes:

After all, before then no one except Christians had believed that the physical universe appeared suddenly from nothing. 

The obvious reference to Genesis as an exclusively Christian possession is startling. Jews revere and have revered Genesis as one of the five books of Moses for nearly 3,500 years, thus antedating the Christian claim by 1,500 years or so. May I assume Mr. Christensen’s error is one of historical naiveté rather than insensitivity? 

        —David B. Meltz
Atlanta, Georgia

Mr. Christensen Replies:

I understand why Mr. Meltz might be offended if he thought that I was trying to expropriate Genesis as an “exclusively Christian possession.” On the contrary, it is generally agreed among Old Testament scholars that the Christian doctrine creatio ex nihilo is an interpretive innovation by the early Christian fathers, and is a doctrine that is not only not spelled out in the text of Genesis but seems to contradict that text. (Don’t tell the Fundamentalists this, however. They like to think that several doctrines they’ve borrowed from the Catholic tradition can be defended from “Scripture alone.”) 

Karl Rahner’s Encyclopedia of Theology traces the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo back to “the middle of the 2nd century, as in the confession of faith in Hermas” and notes the polemical use of this doctrine in the Christian fight against Gnosticism. In the more pedestrian but accessible Eerdmans’ Handbook to Christian Belief, James Houston observes that “the church fathers developed the notion of creation ‘out of nothing’ [as] a form of theological shorthand to indicate that God is sovereign over creation.” In his Commentary on The Holy Scriptures, John P. Lange argues that creatio ex nihilo is a specifically Christian doctrine, noting that for Aben Ezra, Rabbi Schelomo, and other “learned Jewish commentators,” “creation (the Mosaic creation) is regarded as formation rather than as primal origination of matter.” Lange notes that Aben Ezra specifically opposed the reading of the Genesis text to mean “the bring ing out of nothing.”

John Milton (who, as I noted in my review, rejected creatio ex nihilo) pointed out in his Christian Doctrine that the Hebrew text cannot signify “to create out of nothing.” “On the contrary, these words uniformly signify to create out of matter.” In his study The Old Testament Since the Reformation, the Christian scholar Emil G. Kraeling concedes the real possibility that “the writer of the creation story holds matter to be co-eternal with God” but adds that if this is so “we would have to reject that aspect of its presentation.”

On the other hand, a careful Jewish scholar has recently pointed out to me several citations from rabbinical literature suggesting Jewish development of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo at least as early as the early Christian fathers.

In closing, I think it fair to note that as a Latter-day Saint, I side with John Milton and with Aben Ezra in accept ing the original text of Genesis on this point and rejecting creatio ex nihilo, despite the scientific evidences now being adduced for it. Might God have initiated the primal Bang by suddenly introducing pre-existent matter-energy (perhaps from some other dimension of being) into the time-space of our universe? I don’t know. He does. And neither the latest Grand Unified Theory nor the creation account in Gene sis does more than very partially bridge the gap.