One of the most popular articles I have written is “Big Bang—The Bible Taught It First!” I wrote it with the encouragement and assistance of theologian John Rea and we published it in Reasons to Believe’s Facts for Faith magazine in 2000.1 In the two decades since then, one of the most common objections I have received from skeptics is that the Bible teaches no such thing. Who is correct?
John Rea and I did not claim in this article that the Bible teaches all the fundamental features of the big bang creation model. We did explain, however, how it teaches the four most fundamental properties of big bang cosmology. The four properties it teaches are:
- an ex nihilo [out of nothing] beginning for the universe
- expansion of the universe from its ex nihilo beginning
- constant laws of physics
- a law of decay that pervades the entirety of the universe
These four properties imply that the universe must get progressively colder, in a highly specified manner, as it expands from its ex nihilo beginning. A pervasive law of decay, known today as the second law of thermodynamics or the law of entropy or Murphy’s law, implies that any system that expands, whether it be the piston chamber in an automobile engine or the entire universe, must get colder in proportion to the degree of expansion.
The notion that the Bible describes the four most important features of the big bang creation model makes a powerful apologetics case for the Christian faith and for the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. One reason why is that for over 2,500 years the Bible stood alone as the only book, outside of commentaries on the Bible, that made such claims about the universe. It was not until 1925 that any scientist made note that the universe possessed such features. The Belgian Roman Catholic priest and astrophysicist Abbé Georges Lemaître was the first scientist to write about the expansion of the universe from a cosmic beginning.2
Additionally, the Bible’s foreshadowing these four fundamental features of big bang cosmology—thousands of years before any astronomer had ever discerned that the universe possessed such properties—establishes the Bible’s predictive power. The only reasonable explanation for such a dramatic demonstration of predictive power is that the Bible was inspired by the One who created the universe and controlled its history.
Reaction from Nontheists
Understandably, people who deny the existence of God strongly react to the claim that the Bible teaches the four most important features of big bang cosmology. In every public debate I have had with an atheist, the opponent has asserted that the Bible makes no such declarations. During the last several months, an average of at least one response per day has appeared on my Twitter page denying that the Bible teaches any of the features of the big bang creation model.
These nontheists insist that I am using my twenty-first century knowledge of astronomy to read into the Bible what the Bible has never taught. They contend that I am imposing literal interpretations upon Bible passages that are clearly intended to be figurative. I consistently observe, however, that these assertions are made by people who have neither read my article nor the Bible passages I cite. My article explains why these passages must be understood as literal declarations and not mere figures of speech.
Is It Just Hindsight Interpretation?
The nontheists who have engaged me about the Bible and the big bang avow that they don’t need to read my article or the biblical passages I cite to know that my claims are wrong. No theologian previous to the twentieth century ever commented on the Bible making such claims, they say, which is sufficient evidence that it is just my twenty-first–century astrophysical bias that makes me think the Bible teaches big bang features of the universe.
Here again, however, these nontheistic skeptics are mistaken. Long before the twentiethcentury, both Christian and Jewish theologians wrote about the universe possessing properties that today we recognize as descriptives of the big bang creation model.
Meanwhile, these skeptics tend not to dispute that the Bible teaches that the laws of physics are constant and that one of those laws is a pervasive law of decay. The claim for the former is stated in passages in Genesis 1–3, Jeremiah 33, Romans 8:19–22, and Revelation 21:1–5. The claim for the latter is found throughout Proverbs and especially in Ecclesiastes and Romans 8:18–22. Nontheists unfamiliar with these Bible passages note that these two properties—at least as far as Earth and its life are concerned—would have been evident to pre-twentieth-century populations.
Pre-Twentieth-Century Theologians on Ex Nihilo Creation and Cosmic Expansion
Many nontheists dispute that any theologians previous to the twentieth century had ever discerned that the Bible teaches an ex nihilo beginning for the universe or that the Bible teaches the universe has expanded and is expanding.
However, many pre-twentieth-century Jewish and Christian theologians wrote about the Bible’s teachings concerning the characteristics of the universe. For the sake of brevity, I will highlight only some of the comments by a few of the more prominent ones.
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (120–202), stated, “God, according to His pleasure, in the exercise of His own will and power, formed all things (so that those things which now are should have an existence) out of what did not previously exist.”3
Augustine of Hippo (354–430) wrote in his Confessions, “You [God] were, and besides you nothing was. From nothing, then, you created heaven and earth.”4 Later in Confessions he added, “You created them [the heavens and the earth, that is, the material universe] from nothing, not from your own substance or from some matter not created by yourself or already in existence. …You created the matter from absolutely nothing and the form of the world from this formless matter.”5
The most famous of the medieval Jewish theologians, Moses Maimonides (1135–1204), also known as the Rambam, wrote extensively about Old Testament declarations concerning the beginning of the universe. In his 13 Principles of Faith, Maimonides stated, “We believe that this Oneness is necessarily primary. All that exists other than Him is not primary in relationship to Him. There are many references in the Scriptures. This is the fourth Principle, as affirmed by the verse (Deuteronomy 33:27): ‘God who preceded all existence is a refuge…’”6Here, Maimonides explicitly states that the universe cannot be eternal. It must have a beginning.
In The Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides elucidated what the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) stated about God, the universe, space, and time. He wrote that the entire universe “was brought into existence by God after having been purely and absolutely nonexistent.”7Maimonides declared that Moses in the Torah asserted “that there is nothing eternal in any way at all existing simultaneously with God.”8 Therefore, according to Maimonides, the Mosaic position puts forth a view of creation that is both ex nihilo and de novo (from [the] new).
Maimonides explains that creation de novo does not mean God exists in time and space and picks a particular moment to begin his creations.9 He asserts that time itself is one of these creations. It is not eternal; only God is eternal. Only God is responsible for creating the universe.10 Maimonides also clarifies his definition of nothing and the impotence of nothing: “if nothing is pure and absolute, it cannot be the material cause of anything; it is, after all, nothing.”11
In the thirteenth century, another medieval Jewish theologian, Moses Nachmanides wrote about the expansion of the universe: “There is only one physical creation, and that creation was a tiny speck. . . . As this speck expanded out, this substance—so thin it has no essence—turned into matter as we know it.”12
Evidence for All Readers
In my book The Fingerprint of God I documented the strong reaction by nontheistic astronomers and physicists against the big bang creation model when Georges Lemaître and other astronomers first seriously promoted it to the scientific community.13 These nontheistic astronomers and physicists recognized the concordance between the big bang and biblical cosmology. Since this recognition occurred before the big bang creation model became mainstream astrophysics, these scientists cannot be accused of hindsight bias.
While it’s true that twentieth and twenty-first-century discoveries about the universe have brought more attention to biblical texts describing the origin and characteristics of the universe, readers both before and after the twentieth century recognized and wrote about the Bible’s cosmological declarations. Georges Lemaître, Edwin Hubble, Albert Einstein, and George Gamow were not the first humans to talk and write about the big bang creation model. That credit goes back to biblical authors Job, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Paul, and the author of Hebrews. They discerned and wrote about features of our big bang universe because their writings were inspired by the One who created and designed the cosmos.