2 Peter 3:5 and Genesis 1:2

(Austin Burgard) #1

Hello all!

I was reading 2 Peter this morning and was intrigued by how Peter talks about creation. I know others have made similar posts but I think my question puts a different spin on it. But, should the moderators feel it doesn’t, please feel free to remove it :slight_smile:

Genesis 1:1 can be stated as “When God began creating” (or so I’ve studied and been told). It acts as a sort of prequel to what is about to be said. Then verse 2 states that the earth was formless and void, “darkness covered the watery depths” (CSB). Now, here’s my question:

Both Peter and the author of Genesis seem to be saying that the earth, in some sense, pre-existed. It seems to say that when God created, yes it was by his word, but it wasn’t necessarily creation ex nihilo. It seems to say that God creates ex materia, with the water and the formless land mass already being there. What God does is make it fit for humans to live.

I’m familiar with Walton’s work and so that has been incredibly helpful. I would welcome any exegesis of this passage and more thoughts though. Thanks!


They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 2 Peter 3:4-6

Welcome Austin to the forum. I’m not a professional biblical scholar but I’ve read several commentaries on this passage. I think the key is understanding verses 5-6 in the context of the previous verses, especially verse 4. Peter is responding to the skepticism of false teachers who deny the bodily return of Christ since it would be a supernatural event that contradicts the laws of nature. He responds by arguing that they ignore the fact the the God made the world and its order depends on his word. By his word he formed the world and established the laws of nature, and by his word he is free to act outside of these laws.


I am reluctant to use scientific concordism to arrive at a position of evolutionary creationism since I don’t think scripture addresses our modern scientific curiosities about origins. I’m familiar with Dr. Walton’s view that ex nihilo is not even clearly conveyed in Genesis. I found it interesting that John Calvin considered Genesis and these verses in 2 Peter 3 to formulate his view of creation as a single ex nihilo creative act followed by subsequent ex materia events. As Benjamin Warfield writes of Calvin’s doctrine of creation:

It should scarcely be passed without remark that Calvin’s doctrine of creation is, if we have understood it aright, for all except the souls of men, an evolutionary one. The “indigested mass,” including the “promise and potency” of all that was yet to be, was called into being by the simple fiat of God. But all that has come into being since - except the souls of men alone - has arisen as a modification of this original world-stuff by means of the interaction of its intrinsic forces. Not these forces apart from God, of course: Calvin is a high theist, that is, supernaturalist, in his ontology of the universe and in his conception of the whole movement of the universe. To him God is the prima causa omnium and that not merely in the sense that all things ultimately - in the world-stuff - owe their existence to God; but in the sense that all the modifications of the world-stuff have taken place under the directly upholding and governing hand of God, and find their account ultimately in His will. But they find their account proximately in “second causes”; and this is not only evolutionism but pure evolutionism. What account we give of these second causes is a matter of ontology; how we account for their existence, their persistence, their action - the relation we conceive them to stand in to God, the upholder and director as well as creator of them. Calvin’s ontology of second causes was, briefly stated, a very pure and complete doctrine of concursus, by virtue of which he ascribed all that comes to pass to God’s purpose and directive government. But that does not concern us here.

What concerns us here is that he ascribed the entire series of modifications by which the primal “indigested mass,” called “heaven and earth,” has passed into the form of the ordered world which we see, including the origination of all forms of life, vegetable and animal alike, inclusive doubtless of the bodily form of man, to second causes as their proximate account. And this, we say, is a very pure evolutionary scheme. He does not discuss, of course, the factors of the evolutionary process, nor does he attempt to trace the course of the evolutionary advance, nor even expound the nature of the secondary causes by which it was wrought. It is enough for him to say that God said, “Let the waters bring forth. . . . Let the earth bring forth,” and they brought forth. Of the interaction of forces by which the actual production of forms was accomplished, he had doubtless no conception: he certainly ventures no assertions in this field. How he pictured the process in his imagination (if he pictured it in his imagination) we do not know. But these are subordinate matters. Calvin doubtless had no theory whatever of evolution; but he teaches a doctrine of evolution. He has no object in so teaching except to preserve to the creative act, properly so called, its purity as an immediate production out of nothing. All that is not immediately produced out of nothing is therefore not created - but evolved.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #4

It’s interesting to see how Peter was clearly influenced by Thalesian ideas.

Anyway… I actually do see a creation ex nihilo doctrine in Isaiah 45:7, though I agree it is not implied Genesis.


I think ex nihilo is here in Hebrews 11:3 as well:

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

(Mitchell W McKain) #6

The presumption here is that Genesis is telling the whole story of creation. But on what basis do you presume this? Other passages in the Bible support creation from nothing and thus the fact that the Genesis does not tells us that the attempt to read Genesis as a detailed account of everything that happened from the beginning is misguided, and people are reading conflicts with science into this text because that is what they want to find.

In addition to Isaiah 45:7 there is also these

Psalm 33:6 “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made”

Psalm 148:3-5 “Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created.”

John 1:1-3 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God; 3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

Colossians 1:15-17 “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; 16 for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

But as for creation ex-nihilo, what does this really mean. Are we talking about magic where God gives commands and things simply appear as if there were some powerful being somewhere with the ability and power to answer His commands and make what He cannot? I don’t think so.

But if not magic, then what? Science? Well science does have a few things to contribute…

  1. The universe came to be what it is by a long process and nothing simply appeared… unless you think God is a deceiver who made things in a way to mislead us.
  2. It very much looks like the universe came into being 13.8 billion years ago and before this there was not even empty space or time.
  3. Science has discovered that everything is a form of this stuff called energy and it is not only things but actions like motion also. So the divide between things and action is dissolved in this concept of energy and thus it is quite rational to suppose that the very action of God creating is sufficient to provide all the substance required.

As for 2 Peter and this idea that the Earth was created out of water, I am reminded very much of the claim of Genesis that man was made out of dust. In both cases I think we may be overlooking the fact that it is likely these words “water” and “dust” do not mean what they do for us today. After all, when these texts were written there are a lot of terminology in science which they did not have. So while we think of these words meaning something different than these terms of science, the people of the past had no reason to. Thus “dust” could mean things like “matter” or “particles,” and “water” can mean things like “fluid” or perhaps even “energy.”

(Austin Burgard) #7

Sorry all. I’ve been away and not able to respond. I believe in creation ex nihilo. I wasn’t questioning that. I was simply asking what people thought about the connection between these two verses and reconciling them, so to speak. Sorry for the confusion!

(Austin Burgard) #8

Interesting you say this. As I was studying this passage, commentators brought this up and rejected that Peter was influenced by him.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #9

In Genesis 1 the water is portrayed as a chaotic force opposed to God’s ordered creation. In 2 Peter 3:5 it is the force by which creation happened, so I’m saying there are much greater parallels with Thales than Genesis 1:2, contrary to what many sensitive Christians may want to think. Early Christians wouldn’t have bat an eyelid.

(Austin Burgard) #10

Definitely possibly, my friend! Commentators get things wrong all the time. I’d be interested in seeing the evidence for the claim. :slight_smile:

(Timothy Willett) #11

Ancient Hebrew was a pictographic language and if you look and the pictographs for the word ‘bara’ translated as ‘create’ in genesis 2, it is actually a picture of feeding grain to an ox and thus the literal meaning is to fatten, and in the context of Genesis 1 it means ‘to shape’ or ‘to fill’

Verse 2 says the world had existed ‘tohu wavohu’ or formless and void.

Days 1-3 God seperates and shapes the world to make it habitable, then days 4-6 he fills it.

So when Peter says God formed the world out of water hes just getting that from Genesis 1, but he’s making a theological point not a scientific one.

How material matter came to being likely wasnt of much interest to the Biblical authors.

Creation ex nilo is a flawed idea in my opinion, though, as besides making the false assumptions that Genesis 1 is both talking about an absolute beginning and that it is giving a scientific dissertation, it ignores a basic truth that God is infinite. If he is infinite then there wasn’t nothing before creation there was just God. For there to exist anything that wasnt God he has to empty himself to make nothing then he refill nothing until it creation is complete and God will be all,in all once again but in a new and different way then he was before creation began. So I believe creation out of God not creation out of nothing is a more accurate position.



(RiderOnTheClouds) #13

This is nonsense:

(Timothy Willett) #14

I agree with some of Heiser and Browns caution, especially that there are many amateur you tubers out there with very little actual knowledge of Biblical Hebrew trying to use the ancient Hebrew pictograph symbols to find hidden meaning in words or just trying to willy-nilly combine them together and think that they have found some neat hidden meaning in a text. Both examples they showed in the video would fall into this category.

They both seem to be unaware, however, of much of the serious scholarship done on the etymology of Biblical Hebrew words that takes into account the original pictograph characters. for example by people such as Jeff Benner at the Ancient Hebrew Research Center. Brown’s comments that the letters have always only been only syllables and that the meaning of the pictograph bears no resemblance to the meaning of the words just as in Greek frankly shows a bit of ignorance (though I know Brown is a respectable scholar and would not make that claim about him in general).

It’s true that by the time the Bible was written down the characters were much different than the original pictograph characters, and the Biblical authors likely may have had little if any knowledge of the original symbols that words/characters were derived from, however that’s like saying because most modern English speakers have any to little knowledge of Latin, that it’s worthless to study Latin to better understand the meaning of English words even though many English words derive from Latin roots.

Jeff Benner has written a Biblical Hebrew lexicon that you can read for free online here:

It includes most every word in Hebrew Scriptures and demonstrates the value of using the ancient pictograph alphabet to better understand the meaning of the Biblical Hebrew words. It is of course only one tool and needs to balanced by other commonly used methods such as seeing how it is used in context, but nevertheless is a valuable tool for doing Hebrew words studies.

Here’s a chart of what the original characters of the Hebrew alphabet looked like, how they changed over time, what the original symbol was and what it’s usual meanings were: http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/alphabet_chart.html

There are 23 characters, each which represent a sound, a symbol (and meaning), and a number.

To form words, first 2 characters were combined to form a parent root. The parent root has a meaning that is related to the 2 characters that combined to form the parent root. Then from the parent roots, 3 letter child roots were formed by adding another character at the beginning, middle, or end of the 2 letter parent root. All of the child roots formed from the parent root were then in some way related to the parent root.

More words were then formed by adding letters to the child root.

It’s also important to know that ancient Hebrew had no abstract words (ie something that you can’t see, taste, touch, or smell). Thus any abstract word was expressed by using a concrete word. For example when God tells Moses he is ‘slow to anger’, the word ‘anger’ doesn’t exist in Hebrew because that’s an abstract concept. Instead God tells Moses he is long of nose. The concrete image for anger was flaring of your nostrils).

Of course like any language not every word fits neatly this way as some were later developed words and/or borrowed from other cultures.

So Brown’s statement that “How many words could you make from less than 30 characters”, sounds convincing, but unfortunately speaking louder and more passionately doesn’t make your statements anymore true.

An example of some obvious words that demonstrate this is Hebrew words for father, mother, or son.

The word for father is ‘av’, which is aleph, bet in Hebrew, and the symbol for aleph is an ox, meaning “strength” the symbol for bet is a tent floor plan meaning “house”. Thus the father is the strength of the home. Also Av is a parent root meaning “tent pole” since the tent pole is the strength of the house (in a nomadic culture that lived in tents), and thus all words with the root “av” have some conceptual relationship to a tent pole.

Mother is ‘eym’ spelled aleph, mem, and aleph is again an ox, and mem is water, so it is strong water. Ancient Hebrews made glue by putting animal skin in water and thus strong water means “glue”, so the mother was seen as the glue of the home.

Son is ‘beyn’, spelled ‘bet’, ‘nun’, bet is the home, and nun is a seed and symbolizes continuance, so the son is the one who continues the family.

Even many of the prepositions are quite intuitive based on the original pictographs. For example, to say roughly the equivalent of our word ‘the’, you add a ‘hey’ to the front of the word. That is actually a symbol of a man with his arm raised sighing and pointing at something. For roughly the equivalent of ‘and’, you add a ‘vav’ before the word and that is a symbol of a tent peg so conveys the idea of contenting two thoughts together.

So again Brown and Heiser are both respectable scholars but they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater here and appear to be simply unaware of some credible scholarship done on the etymology of Biblical Hebrew from the original pictograph characters.

Here is the entry in the lexicon for ‘bara’: http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/ahlb/beyt.html#1254, that I referenced earlier.

Without understanding the original etymology of the word and seeing that the concrete image for bara is to fatten an ox by feeding him grain, you will have much difficulty understanding it’s use in 1 Samuel 2:29 for example:

“Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?”

Look up the word for “making yourself fat” and you will see it is Strong’s Hebrew 1254, ‘bara’, the same word used in Genesis 1, that is translated ‘create’.

The parent root for BaRA is ‘Beyt’, “Resh”, which is a head and a house and means “House of Heads” and was used to describe ‘grain’. Quite interestingly many English words actually still retain resemblance of this 2 letter root: BRead, BRan, BeeR, BaRely, or animals that eat grain: BiRd, BoaR.

(Timothy Willett) #15

I am reminded very much of the claim of Genesis that man was made out of dust. In both cases I think we may be overlooking the fact that it is likely these words “water” and “dust” do not mean what they do for us today

I think you’re on the right track, but you’re still thinking more material, I think Peter was thinking more symbolic with these terms.

Water symbolized chaos and death in Ancient Near Eastern thought. For example Genesis 1 starts out with the world being a watery chaos, and in many mythologies the “sea” is the passageway to the underworld, and in Revelation 21:1 it says “there will be no more sea” in the new creation, and earlier in Revelation the serpent and 7 headed dragons arise out of the sea (which itself is an allusion to the ‘tanynim’, often given a lame translation of sea creatures, in Genesis 1:21, even though it’s usually translated as serpents or dragons elsewhere.)

Peter alludes to the world being flooded and destroyed by the same water that God created the world from, he seems to be making a point that God is holding back the chaotic forces (like in day 2 and 3 of creation) and thus not allowing the ungodly to be judged and destroyed at the present time, but on the Day of the Lord, as in the flood story of Noah, they will not be held back anymore and the ungodly will be destroyed.

ANE saw the sky as a solid dome holding back a heavenly ocean, so in the flood story when God “opens up the gates of heaven”, he is withholding his holding back of the primordial chaotic forces and letting those waters fall back to the earth returning it to the state of Genesis 1:2.

So these are the kind of things Peter is trying to convey. He’s not thinking scientifically like we are accustomed to thinking.

I don’t think it’s all that necessary that you take the flood story to be a historic event or that you literally believe the world was created out of the material substance of water for Peter’s message to be valid.

Also dust symbolizes mortality generally in the Bible. “You were created from dust and to dust you shall return”, “He knows we are but dust. The life of mortals is like grass”

(Mitchell W McKain) #16

I wasn’t speaking of the author so much as the readers to which it was directed. After all, a lot of people, myself included, think God is the author of the Bible. Also I think your speculations about a person’s thoughts should be stated as a speculation rather than as a fact.

The gist of my post is that there is no cause to read any conflict with science into the text.

As I have said elsewhere, I tend to think that all myth is rooted in historical events. But people of that time hardly had a global or planetary conception of the world. When they spoke of the world they were talking about what they knew of so I see very little cause to read the flood story as a global event in conflict with the findings of science. Nor did they have an inkling of the biodiversity of the Earth. So I think there is no reason to think that a flood did not wipe out human civilization in a more localized event and that they preserved what animals (mostly domesticated) they knew about.

And even as a scientist the particulate nature of our physical existence speaks very much to me of the fragility and mortality of life. So after all, has our scientific knowledge really altered the basic facts all that much?

(Timothy Willett) #17

I believe in divine inspiration of Scripture, but in my experience, the often quoted saying that “God is the author” of Scripture usually causes people to overemphasizes the divinity of Scripture and underemphasizes the humanity of Scripture. The Bible is not something along the lines of the Book of Mormons or Koran that was divinely dictated. Thus we must respect the culture and context and language of the original author/audience. The weight of authority isn’t in the fact that the cultural beliefs of the human author (scientific and other) are necessarily accurate, but in the divine message that’s being communicated through a particular human being living in a particular time in history in a particular culture (that’s at least what I mean when I say I believe in divine inspiration).

To think that a 1st century Jew was thinking “matter”, “particles”, “fluid”, or “energy”, is a stretch, in my opinion, it might help us reconcile scientific difficulties, but doesn’t line up with what we know of the culture in which Peter lived in.

A better approach, in my opinion, is to look elsewhere in Scripture and other writings, for example, other ANE creation accounts such as the Enuma Elish, that existed during the time the Bible was written to better understand Peter’s reference to the world being “created out of water”.

But I did not speak to Peter, so you are right, probably should have but “these are the kinds of things I think Peter is trying to convey.”

(Bill Wald) #18

The “First Cause” problem e.g. why is there something and not nothing" has been argued for 4,000 years. The only logical answers are “some sort of god” or “always was.” Doesn’t matter how many layers of universes there are. Or if this universe only exists in computer memory or in God’s memory.

(Mitchell W McKain) #19

I think “divinely inspired” is too weak because from my perspective divine inspiration is everywhere raining down upon us in a torrent. I agree 100% about dictation – in fact, I think claims like that, much like imposing design or the creation of living things, is projection of human ways of doing things upon God. It strongly suggests to me that people are claiming to speak for God because they want to clothe themselves with His authority in the effort to control and manipulate of others. Instead, I would say God can use people, nations, and the events of history as His writing instruments – a more subtle hand in things. But in my experience, God quite often communicates things to people in spite of the person speaking or writing and thus limiting the meaning to what the speaker/writer intends is a mistake.

That is not what I said. My point is that the terms “dust” and “water” cannot exclude concepts not yet named. Whether the author is simply speaking in general terms or has some more poetic or mystical meaning is really beside the point, which is simply that there really is no call for reading any conflict with science into the text.

As a scientist and an educator, I cannot help thinking about how I could successfully communicate what I know when the language for it simply does not exist. I wonder if it might not be just as difficult as trying to communicate with Wittgenstein’s lion.

Sounds like another piece in a house of cards. Ultimately we just have boil this down to the fact that there is very little objectivity in any of this and we are just too likely to read what we want into the text one way or another. I believe it is a fact of psychology that perception cannot abstracted from our beliefs and therefore what hope do we have attaching meaning to the words of a text apart from a rather large set of assumptions.

(system) #20

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