Karl Barth Church Dogmatics III.I p.13ff

(b) When we come to the predicate “Creator” in the credal statement the main point to be made is that it encloses an event, a completed act. The Creator does not just “exist.” He has done something: creavit; He has accomplished the creatio. The statement that God has created heaven and earth speaks of an incomparable perfect, and tells us that this perfect is the beginning of heaven and earth. It is also true that this beginning does not cease, but determines their duration; that the Creator remains Creator and as such is present as such to His creation-actively present, and not leaving His work behind, or abandoning it to someone else or to itself, like a shipbuilder his ship, or a watchmaker his watch. To the uniqueness of the perfect there belongs the fact that it also contains a present. But this does not alter the fact that it is a perfect, referring to something which has happened, and happened once and for all. In its own way the first article of the creed with its substantive Creator speaks no less historically that the second with its many verbal forms. It is for this very reason that the Creator cannot be changed into a world-cause, a supreme or first cause or a principle of being. All such concepts denote a timeless relationship, i.e., one which exists always and everywhere, analogous to the internal cosmic relationships of cause and effect. We must give them a new significance, therefore, if we are to use them to describe God as Creator. And this new meaning must be so radically different that the analogy to the internal cosmic relationship is completely broken. In contrast to everything that we know of origin and causation, creation denotes the divine action which has a real analogy, a genuine point of comparison, only in the eternal begetting of the Son by the Father, and therefore only in the inner life of God Himself, and not at all in the life of the creature. The historical secret of the creation is that outwith His own reality God willed and brought into being a correspondence of that which, as the constitutive act of His deity, forms the secret of His own existence and being. This is the incomparable perfect to which the creed looks back as the beginning of heaven and earth. Thus creation does also denote a relationship between God and the world, i.e., the relationship of absolute superiority and lordship on the one hand and of absolute dependence on the other. Creation does not signify, however, only a mythological or speculative intensification of the concept of this relationship, but its presupposition and decisive meaning. That is, creation speaks primarily of a basis which is beyond this relationship and makes it possible; of a unique, free creation of heaven and earth by the will and act of God.

This point of the dogma ought never to have been suppressed, or obscured and trivialised, by an overemphasised of the supra-temporal character of the act of creation om the one side, and the present character of the Creator-creature relationship on the other. It was a dangerous encroachment when some of the fathers (Theoph. of Antioch, Ad Aut., 11, 10, Clement of Alex., Strom., VI, 75, Ambrose, Hexaem., 1, 4, 15 as well as Augustine, Conf., XI, 8f., cf. 24) wanted to translate bereshith, Gen. 1.1 by ἐν Λόγῳ. It is true that creation took place by God’s Word, but it certainly took place “in the beginning,” as the beginning of all things. It was their historical entry into reality. Even in John 1.1 does not say the Logos was the beginning, but that it was “in the beginning.” i.e., that it was apart from Him, that it was with God and was God Himself; and it was also in and with the beginning of all that is distinct from God as created by Him. And His participation in creation is described in John 1.3 & 9 by the same egeneto as in v. 14 describes His incarnation, and therefore surely denotes a unique historical act, and therefore (without detriment to its eternal basis and comprehensive significance for every age) not a mere timeless relationship between God and man. On very different presuppositions from those of the fathers, the Jewish commentator, B Jacob, has also maintained (Das erste Buch der Thora, 1934 p. 20) that the bereshith in Genesis 1.1 refers to “a unique absolute pre-temporality,” to “the precondition of all occurrence in time.” In this case, however, the ensuing history of creation and the history of Israel which developed out of it confront it as time confronts eternity. The contingent unique act of creation does not therefore belong this history. It does not form its beginning. Indeed, strictly speaking, it is not even an event. It confronts history as an absolute transcendental origin. In view of Jewish denial of the Messiahship of Jesus and the incarnation of the Word, the view of creation is supremely logical. In the Christian view, however, the circles which there confront one another in clear separation, touch and overlap_as they already touch and overlap in and do not exclude one another in the Person of Jesus Christ, and therefore in the concept of the Word of God, and indeed in the trinitarian concept and understanding of the eternal will and decree of God. Because God created time, i.e., our time, with the world,, it is not intrinsically alien to Him; for eternity is His time, in the light of which he created our time. And as God founds and rules creaturely history as the salvation history resolved by Him, the reality of history again is not intrinsically alien to Him. Indeed even before the beginning of creaturely history it pre-exists originally in His own life as Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and indeed in the form of contingent history in His eternal decision regarding creaturely history, in His election of grace as the eternal beginning of all His ways and works. Thus even this eternal beginning of all things in God does not exclude but includes the possibility that the completion of creation may also be a historical secret, a beginning of the world with time and to that extent in time, a first history. And that is what it was what is actually maintained by the Christian confession recognising the beginning of all the ways and works of God, the historicity of the eternal being and will of God, and therefore the diversity but not the separation of the inward life of God and His outward life which establishes sustains and rules the world. It regards the beginning of the world, posited by the will and act of God, not merely as supra-historical, but also as historical. It is no mere accident that the substantive “Creator” occurs only once in the New Testament (1Pet 4.19), the normal rule being to us participles  and relative clauses, thus explicitly understanding creation as a historical act of God. The result is, of course, that conversely the creed can regard the whole continuation and duration of creation as not merely historical but also, in the sense of this beginning, as supra-historical; as creation continua and not just as an immanent development on the basis of the transcendental origin of the whole. For the same reason it can also look forward to the creation of the new heaven and the new earth-no less contingently historical than the first. Creator means creavit, and this creavit characterises the statement regarding creation as a statement of faith in the strictest sense of the term.

(c) In content, the predicate “Creator” speaks of an incomparable act. It tells us that God is the One who, although wholly self-sufficient in His possession of all perfections, and absolutely glorious and blessed in His inner life, did not as such will to be alone, and has not actually remained alone, but in accordance with His own will, and under no inward constraint than that of the freedom of His love, has, in an act of overflowing of His inward glory, posited as such a reality which is distinct from Himself. And it says of the world that it received through an act of God the reality, existence and form which it did not have and could not therefore give itself because it did not exist at all. It says that the world itself, in respect of its existence and essence, is an absolute gift of God. “Create” in the sense of the Christian Creed denotes this act. Its terminus a quo is the good-pleasure of the free omnipotence of the divine love. Its terminus ad quem is the reality, elected and posited by this divine good-pleasure and established, determined and limited by this omnipotence of love, of something which is not divine and the existence and essence of which can only be described only as absolute dependence on this act and therefore on God Himself, so that they can be understood only in this relationship to Him, and therefore as those of a “creature” which belongs wholly and utterly to Him. No matter how the relationship between the beginning and continuation of creation may be understood either exegetically and systematically, there can be no doubt that in every case it can be understood only as this act with its very unequal counterpart and wholly dissimilar presuppositions; only in this irreversibility and this absolutely contingent event which we can comprehend and deduce neither from God nor from the world; only as the secret of the actuality of the Creator and the creature, of their association, and of the indissoluble order of their association. However things may stand between God on the one side and the world and man on the other, this presupposition is always the basis. And whatever may happen between the two, this act will always be the background. In this sense God will always be the Creator, and all reality which is distinct from Him will always be His creature. For this Creator-creature relationship_established, determined and limited by this act_corresponds externally to the inner life of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. It is the execution of the contingent decision of God in His predestination. If the creation is the secret, it can be known only by the revelation of God Himself, and therefore it can only be appropriated in faith; that is, in the faith which has actually before it both aspects of this incomprehensible and indeducible and contingent act as presented to it by the act itself. A knowledge of the Creator and His work which is attained only by changing and weakening the real meaning of this predicate, and therefore otherwise than by revelation and faith, will have no reference to its true theme, and is in fact quite impossible as a knowledge of the Creator and His work.

Among the words used by the Bible to describe the divine creation (cf. for what follows the Art. κτίζειν by W. Foerster, TWzNT, III), the Old Testament bara’ is lexicographically unequivocal to the extent that in the strict sense_as in its immediate appearance in Gen 1.1_it can denote only the divine creation in contrast to all other: the creation which does not work on an existing object or material which can be made by the Creator into something else; the creatio ex nihilo whose Subject can only be God and no one apart from Him_no creature. B. Jacob (op cit p. 22) calls the statement in Gen 1.1, with reference to this bara’ “the first great act of the Torah, of the religious genius of Israel.” But this of all statements surely cannot be understood when we think that we can say this of it, turning the glory of God which this bara’ proclaims and to which it obviously redounds into a glorification of Israel and its religious genius. Where is this genius in the LXX rendering of bara’ as ἐποίησεν? But be that as it may, the miracle of the will and act of God on the one side, and the existence and the essence of heaven and earth on the other, is not bound to this untranslatable word by which it is denoted. Both the Old and the New Testaments are sparing in their use of ultimate and decisive words and more prodigal and penultimate terms. There is no reason for surprise, therefore, if in addition to the unique bara’, but which stand in the light of it and may be interpreted by it: qanah (or κτίζειν), to acquire or procure of prepare for oneself: yatsar (or πλάσσειν), to fashion or form or shape in someway; ‘asah (or ποιεῖν), to manufacture or to make; and yasad (or θεμελιοῦν) to establish. When these terms are applied to the creative act of God, there can be no real doubt that they too denote that wonderful relationship between God and the object of His act__the incomprehensible, indeducible and contingent transition from potentiality which has its basis only in God Himself to the actuality of another reality by the execution of His divine will and decree. The God of the Old Testament is the Creator in this sense, and everything that is not God is opposed to Him in this sense as creature. It is significant that without the single exception of the LXX carefully avoided the familiar Greek verb δημιουργεῖν as a rendering of the Hebrew words used to denote the creative activity of  God to the Greeks. A δημιουργός is really one who performs a definite work for the public i.e., the seer, or doctor, or builder, or herald, or singer. More commonly, he is the artisan, and even more commonly the expert in contrast to the layman_the man who unlike others can make something out of a given material. When δημιουργός is used of God in  Greek literature it is to describe Him as the One who transformed the world from ἀταξία into κόσμος. The God of the Old Testament does, of course, fashion the world, but He does so as Creator. In evident awareness of this the LXX  preferred κτίζειν to ποιεῖν, πλάσσειν, and θεμελιοῦν so that this has become the true technical term for the divine creation. According to Foerster κτίζειn signifies “the decisive act of will which underlies the erection, institution or foundation (e.g., of a city, theatre, temple, baths, etc.) and which is then followed by the actual execution (δημιουργεῖν). Since the days of Alexander the Great, κτίζειn in the Hellenistic sense has had the particular reference to the autocratic ruler with the aspiration of divinity, who  irrespective of what was there before causes a πόλις to arise by his word or command or will (backed by his power), thus acquiring divine honour in this city, since it owes its very existence wholly to him as its κτίτης. The word bara’ is not consistently translated κτίζειn. The first variation occurred as early as the creation story. On the other hand, it is true to say that this Greek word, like the Hebrew, indicates the direction of biblical thinking in this matter. In both cases we are pointed to the transcendental and therefore unique character, to the mystery, of the divine action described in creation. We lay too strong an emphasis on this mystery. According to Hebrews 11.3 creation coming into being which no φαινόμενα either precede or underlie. According to Rom. 4.17 it is an act of God which can be linked only with the resurrection of the dead__creation and resurrection being distinctive of God to whom Abraham yielded the faith which was imputed to him for righteousness. A number of passages in the New Testament deal with the καταβολὴ κόσμου beyond which nothing exists or even conceivable (according to Eph. 1.4) apart from our election in Jesus Christ as the eternal decree of the will of God, and therefore apart from God Himself. And if more is needed, we are taught by the declaration of Ps. 73. 25; “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none on earth that I desire beside thee”: by Mk 13.31, that heaven and earth shall pass away, but the words of Jesus will not pass away; and by the definite expectation of a new heaven and a new earth in  Rev. 21.1 and 2Pet. 3.15, how immeasurably transcendent in the sense of the biblical witness is the act denoted when we say that God created the present heaven and earth. How can this act, and the relationship based on it,be really known except in Jesus Christ, and therefore in the faith of the New Testament witnesses? And how can it be confessed, therefore, except in the form of an article in the Christian creed?

(d) The object to which the statement about creation refers is “heaven and earth”. Whatever these two terms may denote both individually and in concert, there can be no doubt that in the sense of the biblical witness from Genesis to the Revelation of John, they denote the sum of the reality which is distinct to God. They tell us that in the one reality which is distinct from God there is this distinction of heaven and earth. This distinction is relative to the extent that it does not exclude but includes an association and even a unity of both. But it is a distinction which is definitely posited and cannot be dissolved in any association or unity of the two. Heaven is not earth and earth is not heaven. Yet they do not stand in a relationship of equilibrium and symmetry. Heaven undoubtedly has a definite superiority over earth. This certainly does not approach the primacy of God in relation to the whole, but it is still a real and ineffaceable superiority. It is the higher creation within the whole, distinguished both outwardly and inwardly. Earth for its part is not without God. But it is also not without heaven. It is under it, and in this way it participates in its distinction. But it has its own dignity, which in relationship to God is not less, but which is determined and ordered by God through its inner creaturely relationship with heaven. Heaven and earth in this differentiation from a totality. They are one in the fact they are not God, but are distinct from God, yet willed and posited by God. In this way they are the totality of the reality distinct from God. What is not divine, what is not God Himself, in this heaven and earth in this difference and homogeneity. The statement that God created heaven and earth tells us, therefore, that God created the whole, i.e., everything that is not God Himself, from the very highest within this sphere to the very lowest. It also tells us that there is nothing within this sphere which did not require His creation in order to be; and also nothing which He did not consider worthy for His creation, i.e., nothing which does not have the lowliness and the glory of the creature; which is not absolutely dependent on the Creator and absolutely upheld by Him. And since the reference is the totality of creation, to heaven and earth, it is also to man. All that the Bible and the creed say about creation as a whole points to man__and most impressively because they do not name him. They do not need to name him because in him heaven are together in this fixed order; because man is and represents the secret of the creature. They do not wish to name him because it is by this solemn refusal to do so that they say the decisive thing about him__that he is on earth and under heaven, and therefore between these two worlds, which for all their distinction are still the one world created by God. The reason why God created this world of heaven and earth, and why the future world will be a new heaven and a new earth, is that God’s eternal Son and Logos did not will to be an angel or animal but a man, and that this and this alone was the content of the eternal divine election of grace. He is for whose sake God loved man from eternity and for whose sake He willed and as the Creator gave reality to the existence and being of man as this creature on earth and under heaven. His words__as the seed and pledge of a new heaven and a new earth__will not pass away, even if this heaven and earth pass away as they have come into being. He (in His humanity) is the centre of all creation, of the whole reality of which the creed says that God created it, that it has duration and existence through  God alone. From this side too, then, the statement of the creed is a statement of faith. Nor is it a subsidiary and incidental statement__a mere prolegomenon of faith. But in its own manner and form it is the one and only statement of confession. We believe in Jesus Christ when we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. These words of the first article do not make sense if for all the particularity of their meaning they do not anticipate the confession of the second and also the third article.