|The Creation of the World, Antonio Canova, 1821-22|
Photo Gipsoteca, Possagno via WSJ
We just considered the fact that the writers of Genesis retold the creation stories of other nations, correcting them to present the right view of God. So let's look at the biggest way they did this, by pointing out that God, uniquely among other creation stories, creates out of nothing.
This really opened my eyes, from the very beginning of Genesis. For one thing, I don't think we moderns give God enough credit. We just take it for granted because "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" is so familiar. But really stop and think about it. Heavens to Betsy! All this around us, created out of nothing!
Genesis begins not just with the beginning of something, but with the beginning of everything. Its first verse uses a word for which there is no equivalent in any other ancient language. The word is bara'. It means not just to make but to create, not just to re-form something new out of something old, but to create something wholly new that was simply not there before. Only God can create, for creation in the literal sense (out of nothing) requires infinite power, since there is an infinite gap between nothing and something. Startling as it may seem, no other people ever had creation stories in the true sense of the word, only formation stories. The Jewish notion of creation is a radically distinctive notion in the history of human thought. When Jewish theologians like Philo and later Christian theologians (who learned it from the Jews) told the Greeks about it, they were often ridiculed.