What does creation ex nihilo mean? Does creation change God in any sense? These are important questions, but an even more important question is this: Who is this God who created? Since creation assumes God exists, then his existence is fundamental to creation and necessary to it. Without God there is no creation. Theology proper, therefore, is of first importance and fundamental.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, NKJV). That God exists, causing the creation of the heavens and the earth is clear—exegetically, theologically, and logically. Creation came about from God, though it is not God. That which was not, came to be, because God caused it to be. That which came to be did so by God, and God alone. Creation has no material cause. There were no material entities (or anything else) God utilized to create. God is, therefore, creation’s efficient cause, causing that which was not to be without any change in him. He created ex nihilo, that is, from nothing but himself.
Some questions that will be discussed in this article include the following: What does creation ex nihilo mean? Does creation change God in any sense? These are important questions, but an even more important question is this: Who is this God who created? Since creation assumes God exists, then his existence is fundamental to creation and necessary to it. Without God there is no creation. Theology proper, therefore, is of first importance and fundamental. Since this is the case, we will consider God the Creator, creation ex nihilo, then whether God changes, in any sense, by virtue of creation.
God the Creator
It should be clear that creatures are not self-created. That which does not exist cannot cause itself to exist. Man’s creator is God, the God who has revealed himself in creation, conservation, re-creation, and consummation. But who or what is this God? Since God exists and creatures come into existence, the first question should be in reference to God. Who or what is he? This is no small question. It should be our first question, since it is primary, of first importance, and fundamental. One of the reasons this is the case is because creation involves everything in relation to God. In other words, the doctrine of creation, as with the doctrine of God the Trinity, is a distributed doctrine. John Webster’s words capture what is meant by creation and theology proper as distributed doctrines. He says:
. . . the doctrine of creation is one of the two distributed doctrines in the corpus of Christian dogmatics. The first (both in sequence and in material primacy) distributed doctrine is the doctrine of the Trinity, of which all other articles of Christian teaching are an amplification or application, and which therefore permeates theological affirmations about every matter; theology talks about everything by talking about God. The doctrine of creation is the second distributed doctrine, although, because its scope is restricted to the opera Dei ad extra [i.e., the external works of God], its distribution is less comprehensive than that of the doctrine of the Trinity. Within this limit, the doctrine of creation is ubiquitous. It is not restricted to one particular point in the sequence of Christian doctrine, but provides orientation and a measure of governance to all that theology has to say about all things in relation to God.
It is appropriate, therefore, to discuss theology proper before we discuss creation.
Since we are discussing God, creation ex nihilo, and divine immutability, it may help to use an old Protestant confession of faith to help us. The Second London Baptist Confession of 1677/89 (2LCF) says this in its chapter on creation:
In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible of invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good (2LCF 4.1).
Notice that God is identified in a Trinitarian manner—“God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This assumes previous confessional statements about theology proper, such as divine aseity, infinity, incomprehensibility, spirituality, invisibility, immensity, simplicity, impassibility, immutability, and eternity (2LCF 2.1). It also means that the creator is the Trinity—“God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (2LCF 2.3). Creation does not make God any of these things; nor does God make himself any of these things (or others) in order to create or relate to creatures. The one God who subsists in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the creator. The one God in three persons, who exists as such eternally and immutably, is the creator. He does not tinker with himself in order to reveal himself. According to the Bible (Gen. 1:1; John 1:3; Job 26:13) and the confession, God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—manifests himself via creation. Note well that he manifests (i.e., reveals) and note well what he manifests (i.e., himself).