What Does Ex Nihilo Mean?

The universe had a beginning, and someone had to set the beginning in motion. We know that this someone is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and has intricately woven his creation with care.

Hope Bolinger
God's hands forming the earth

Nothing comes from nothing.

We’ve learned this concept ever since we tried to multiply anything with the number zero in early elementary math classes. Dating back to Aristotelian philosophy (and even further) everything is dependent on something. A “mover,” if you will, sets an object into motion.

But we can have an infinite set of movers. We live in a finite timeline, so an infinite set of dependent movers who set the next object into motion is impossible. Something had to start everything. And something had to start with nothing and create everything.

Thus, we arrive at the term, ex nihilo.

In essence, ex nihilo means “out of nothing.” Or “from nothing.” In other words, all of creation, the entire universe, was created out of nothing.

This may seem odd to the modern ear. After all, even when artists create, they have to use some pre-existing materials. You can’t make statues without stone, nor books without words that have already come to be.

So how does a Creator create something out of nothing? Where do we find the term ex nihilo in the Bible (or do we find it anywhere in Scripture)? And why does this matter?

Let’s dive into these questions!

How Can Something Come from Nothing?

Scientific theory has proven that the universe has been expanding, and therefore, started from nothing. Of course, scientists have also tried to assert that an impartial force or some other complicated theories to fill in the gaps of where a creator fits into the equation.

But if we follow the footnotes and go where the evidence is most obviously pointing, the universe had a beginning, and someone had to set the beginning in motion. As Christians, we know that this someone is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and has intricately woven his creation with care. After all, the beauty and mathematical complexity of the Lord points to his creative touch (Psalm 19:1).

Nevertheless, we can see why non-religious scientists would try to form complex theories for how anything, and I do mean anything, but God can create something from nothing.

After all, it seems like a mathematical impossibility.

Here we need to define a couple of terms. First, let’s talk about dependent versus independent. As dependent beings, we can’t create something out of nothing, because we rely on materials that are dependent. We cannot even take a breath without the Lord (Isaiah 42:5).

Let’s talk about the term independent. God is independent. He does not need creation to survive. Therefore, as an independent being, God operates differently than dependent beings.

We can only operate in the natural sense, but God can work in the supernatural sense.

That means he has abilities we do not. Including creating something out of nothing.

It can be a difficult concept to grasp, but what is more difficult is trying to explain how the universe came to be without Aristotle’s unmoved mover. Scientists have tried everything from spontaneity to infinite big bangs and universes. Many of these theories lack serious evidence, or at least, the same amount of evidence we have for the expansion of the universe from a singular point of nothing.

In other words, it’s impossible to remove God from the equation. Something had to have come out of nothing. And Someone had to start that process.

Where Does Scripture Contain “Ex Nihilo”?

First of all, because Scripture wasn’t originally written in Latin, we never find that coined phrase within the Bible. But the Bible does seem to have several verses that point to the fact that something came out of nothing.

Some verses that point to this are John 1:3 and Hebrews 11:3.

We do also find some extra-biblical texts that assert this idea. But we do have to keep in mind that anything listed in the Apocrypha needs to be read with discernment. Some of these passages are 2 Maccabees 7:28 and the Wisdom of Solomon 11:17. The linked article also contains passages from other ancient literature that points to the idea of ex nihilo.

Why Does This Matter?

Why do we need to know the term ex nihilo? Why is it important to know that something came from nothing?

First, it shows that science and religion don’t butt heads. Really, the two point to one another. Science has proven that something did indeed come out of nothing. And religion shows who was the something.

Second, it displays the great power of God. He is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine. We have finite power, but God is omnipotent. The ex nihilo concept proves that he can take nothing and turn it into something.

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headshot of author Hope BolingerHope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,000 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. Find out more about her at her website.

Originally published June 10, 2020.