Did God create plants on Day 3 out of nothing?
We often hear the statement “God created everything out of nothing” and may be inclined to think that means each specific thing created in Creation Week was created from nothing—e.g. that plants on Day 3 were created from nothing, as were stars on Day 4, etc. But is this the picture that Genesis 1 gives us? CMI New Zealand’s Ross Peeters explores what Genesis 1 says about how God created.
E.L. from Australia writes:
Hi. I just stumbled across something I’ve never noticed before, despite all the many times I’ve read Genesis 1. I always thought that God made everything out of nothing, i.e. the earth out of nothing, plants out of nothing, animals out of nothing, etc. but that man was made out of the dust of the earth, and woman from man’s rib. But it actually says ‘let the land produce vegetation’ and ‘let the land produce living creatures’, so were plants and animals also created from the dust? But it doesn’t say that for the birds and fish. So were they made out of nothing? I mean, I know that all matter came from nothing on day one, but I’d never noticed this before. Please explain, or point me to an article on this that I may have missed in my search! Thanks, and keep up the good work.
CMI New Zealand’s Ross Peeters responds:
Thank you for submitting your interesting question to CMI. I’ll point out first that although God leaves no doubt about the order of creation, how long (6 consecutive solar days) and when (about 6,000 years ago), the creation account is not comprehensive. As you point out, God does provide a bit more detail about his masterpiece, Adam, who was formed from the dust of the earth and Eve from the side of Adam.
Traditionally, Christians understand that the creative process that God utilized involved His Word, the creation of matter from nothing on Day 1, and the forming of that matter into the objects that populate our physical universe. The article Evolution—still an option? expands this concept, and I copy the relevant part here for completeness:
The Bible clearly reveals that God created this universe:
1. By fiat (by decree, by his Word):
“And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). “Then God said, ‘Let the waters below the sky be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear!’; and it was so” (Genesis 1:9). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him [i.e. the Word], and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1–3). “ … by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by the water” (2 Peter 3:5). “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God … ”(Hebrews 11:3).
2. Ex nihilo (out of nothing):
“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). ‘ … God, Who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist’ (Romans 4:17).
3. By creative acts:
Although the universe, heavens and earth, were created out of nothing, much of the contents of this universe were created out of the material which God had previously created out of nothing. Thus the Bible says, ‘God separated the light from the darkness’ (v.4) or ‘God made the expanse’ (v.7), or ‘God made the two great lights’ (v. 16), or ‘God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul’ (Genesis 2:7). But all these creative acts, though not by fiat and not ex nihilo, are nevertheless done in less than a day. They are not achieved over a long period of time, such as thousands or millions of years, but, according to the numerals used, in less than one solar day.
To extend this thought, Henry Morris in The Genesis Record provides the following commentary:
“The earth itself originally had no form to it (Genesis 1:2); so [Genesis 1:1] must speak essentially of the creation of the basic elements of matter, which thereafter were to be organized into the structured earth and later into other material bodies. The word is the Hebrew erets and is often also translated either ‘ground’ or ‘land’. Somewhat similarly to the use of ‘heaven’, it can mean either a particular portion of earth (e.g., the ‘land of Canaan’—Genesis 12:5) or the earth material in general (e.g., ‘Let the earth bring forth grass’—Genesis 1:11)” (p. 41).
Morris goes on to describe that “Initially there were no stars or planets, only the basic matter component of the space-matter-time continuum. The elements which were formed into the planet Earth were at first only elements, not yet formed but nevertheless comprising the basic matter—the ‘dust’ of the earth [emphasis in original]” (p. 50).
There are numerous places in Scripture which talks about God being the ‘potter’ and ‘forming’ his creation (e.g. Isa. 64:8, Rom. 9:21, Psa. 95:5, Psa. 103:14, Psa. 104:26). Like a potter who works with clay, God used the material he created on Day 1, to form/create the plants on Day 3, which you in fact alluded to in your question.
You mentioned that birds and fish were not described as coming from the ‘dust’. However, Gen. 2:19 states “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky”. Thus the Bible does say that birds were created from the same ‘dust’ material.
I hope this helps.
Creation Ministries International (NZ)