Please explain your interchangeable use of the Hebrew words bara (creation ex nihilo) and asah (making from what already exists)
Question from a reader:
Please explain your interchangeable use of the Hebrew words bara (creation ex nihilo) and asah (making from what already exists) in Chapter 9 of Heaven. With the distinction blurred, what does that do to the doctrines of origin?
If we understand “bara” as “to manufacture something out of nothing” i.e., ex nihilo and “asah” as “to manufacture something out of existing materials” the former translated “create” and the latter translated “make, or restore” what impact will that translation have on the theological position of initial creation being ex nihilo? I’m making particular reference to your almost interchangeable use of create and restoration: “The New Earth Is The Old Earth Restored” in Chapter 9. If there is little or no distinction between creation and restoration, then it appears that one could argue from that position that Genesis 1:1 is not an ex nihilo passage, but a make over of eternally existing matter. Do you see how that logical conclusion could be reached? Ex nihilo hinges on the definitional distinction between bara and asah. With the distinction blended or blurred, what will that do to the doctrines of origin?
Answer from Randy Alcorn:
Bara is used of man’s creation, which is not ex nihilo but out of the earth (Gen. 1:26, 5:1, etc.). So the word is NOT restricted to making something out of nothing (as is often stated), but includes making something out of what already exists. Just because it was used as ex nihilo the first time, in Genesis 1:1, does not require that meaning to be read in to subsequent passages. Context, not any inherent limitation of the word bara, is the key.
Another example: bara is used in Isaiah 41:19-20 in reference to God creating pine, myrtle and olive trees, etc., and it’s a present tense reference. This means God says he “bara”ed trees which actually came from the ground, from seeds, etc. Clearly He is not saying he created those trees from nothing. In fact, even the first trees, in Genesis 1, he brought out of the ground, which preexisted them.
Hebrew and Greek words are very elastic and potential meanings are considerable, just as they are in English. The context usually shows these meanings. What bara always means is “created” or “made” and sometimes that means created out of nothing and other times it means made out of what already exists. So I don’t think it is inconsistent to believe both that God created the original universe out of nothing, and that he will make or remake the new earth out of components that already exist from his original creation (no matter to what degree those components have been reduced through the destruction described in 2 Peter 3).
As I show in the book, there are a number of passages which make clear that God is not done with the old earth and has plans to remake it into the new. Hence, whatever bara means in Isaiah 65 it cannot require that the old earth has in every sense ceased to exist, but only that it has been destroyed in a comparable sense to how our bodies are destroyed by death. (Just as our bodies can and will be restored in the resurrection, so the earth can and will be restored).
For more information on this subject, see Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven.