Let's Be Clear About Who Does What: The Creator and the Demiurge in Barth's Doctrine of Creation

Barth's opponents always get profoundly pissed at him for insisting that the history of the creature in its ordered worlds is not the decisive history of its salvation. And part of that is that Barth—in his own very unzeitgemäß, un-Modern fashion—has decided that empirical history, measurable and objectively quantifiable observed history, Historie as opposed to the histories told in "mere" narrative Geschichte, is really just another kind of storytelling that doesn't earn the privilege we Moderns have tried to give ourselves using it. And he's right, of course, but predating postmodernism by a fair distance, this was bound to piss people off! And it explains most of—for example—Van Til's objections as stubborn refusals to accept anything but the Modern ideal of history as functional in his neo-Reformed apologetics. (Not to mention all the complaints from Lutherans equally obsessed with the idea that the progress toward Modern history and the course of salvation history are one and the same...)

But most of the problem remains that Barth really does reject the idea that there's a throughline of world history from creation to redemption that has anything whatever to do with salvation. Salvation history is the history of God's actions, and not the history of our actions in which they nonetheless have impact. Salvation is not measured by the magnitude of that impact, or the effectiveness of those interventions at shaping human history in a lasting fashion. (This is the value of faith.) The history of the creature is the history of the object of salvation history, who at no point ever becomes the subject of the verb—with the sole exception of Jesus Christ, who has always been the subject of the verb. Salvation history has a wake; it is not its wake. And even if it had no wake, no visible effect, this would be nothing against God's reconciling actions, nor would it imply anything about redemption. Barth is adamant that the refusal of the water to splash is not a measure of the reality of salvation! God does not, for Barth unlike for Lewis, ever relent from saving and say "thy will be done."

But to some people that looks a lot like denying the reality of the creature. Regin Prenter called it "creation docetism," in an attempt to link Barth to the Gnostic heresy by which it was said that Jesus only seemed to suffer, because his body only seemed to be a body like ours. In other words: for Barth we must only seem to exist, because clearly our existence is irrelevant to our salvation; all the real action happens on a higher plane. You see, Prenter believes that creation and redemption are necessarily linked by the course of history, that creation originates the problem that redemption ultimately solves, and that our actions in history are participation in and toward that solution to the extent that we will be saved and not damned when God finally irons out the problem of chaos in the world.
Which ... hey, many of the Fathers also believed that was what the Church was for, Rome still claims to be the only body in which that participation is effective, and the Orthodox—and no few Protestant bodies—only laugh at that because they believe they are instead.

This, of course, is the nature of the problem Barth undertakes to solve in his doctrine of creation, and the whole reason why he sets the creation and redemption of the creature in direct connection. This is why Barth insists on that connection bypassing the post-Fall history in which we have subjected ourselves to futility, and in which God has gone along with and reinforced that futility because God isn't interested in us getting the destructive fates we so clearly want to bring about for one another. (Yes, go over that again, it's a bit of a doozy.) The history of the covenant of grace after the Fall is a secondary history, no longer the history of creation, in which reconciliation is the shape of God's grace contingent not merely upon God's will but also upon our chosen and false reality of sin and evil. God didn't have to will this, God doesn't have to forbear and forgive and reconcile, but God does—and so the difference between creation and order, between the genuine Creator and what Marcion called the Demiurge, between the primary history and the secondary history, is a central issue for any correct grasp of the doctrine of creation.

So let's see how Barth handles it in perhaps the best and most direct instance, in KD III.1, section 40, pp. 14–17. (You can compare the official English in CD III.1, pp. 15–17.) By the end of this passage, I expect you'll see what I mean.

God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth

The first thing you're going to notice here is that Barth has as high a view of God's creating action, God's creative activity, as you could possibly want—except, as it will later be made clear, that it stops, really ends, on the seventh day. Creation from nothing, creatio ex nihil, but not creatio continua because providence after the Fall is a separate work. Still: genuine and necessarily relevant and utterly unique creation, by God, as could be had no other way:
c) Das Prädikat «Schöpfer» redet inhaltlich von einer Tat ohnegleichen. Es sagt von Gott, daß er der Eine ist, der im Besitz aller [S. 15] Vollkommenheit sich selbst ganz und gar Genügende, der in seinem inneren Leben ganz und gar Herrliche und Selige, der nun doch als solcher nicht allein bleiben wollte und tatsächlich nicht allein geblieben ist, sondern – nach seinem eigenen Willen und in keiner anderen inneren Nötigung als der der Freiheit seiner Liebe, in einem Akte des Überströmens seiner inneren Herrlichkeit eine von ihm verschiedene Wirklichkeit als solche gesetzt hat. Und es sagt von der Welt, daß sie ihre Wirklichkeit, ihr Dasein und Sosein, das sie nicht hatte, das sie sich schon darum nicht geben konnte, weil sie gar nicht war, durch den Akt Gottes empfangen hat, daß sie hinsichtlich ihrer Existenz und ihres Wesens sich selbst schlechterdings von Gott geschenkt ist. |

C) The predicate "Creator" speaks materially about an unparalleled deed. It says about God that God is the one who, in possession of all perfection, is completely and utterly self-sufficient; who in God's inner life is completely and utterly majestic and beatific; and who as such nevertheless did not will to remain alone, and did not actually remain alone. Rather, according to God's own will and under no other inner compulsion than that of the freedom of God's own love, in an act of the overflowing of God's inner majesty, God has posited a reality that is as such different from God. And it says about the world that it has received its reality, its thisness and whatness—which it did not have, and which it could not give itself for the simple reason that it did not exist—through the act of God, and that from the perspective of its existence and its essence the world is entirely given by God.
Barth says "materially" here because point (b) was about the grammatical and formal aspects of "Creator" and creavit. Point (a) was about God who creates, as the subject of the verb, and point (d) will be about "the heavens and the earth" as the description of the creature as object of the verb. Barth really likes this sort of exposition; besides being a tremendous nerd, he is essentially giving a classroom lecture and then fixing it up for publication. I can't really complain, since if you've read along this far you're basically sitting in my classroom and should talk to the registrar about getting course credit.

This is Barth reaching back and insistently validating the parts of CD II.1 where he elaborated the virtues of God's freedom and lovingness as perfections. That's not an anachronism, and it's not discarded after II.2; it was a critical reinterpretation, top to bottom, of an entire swath of the tradition in order to make it say what Barth believes needs to be said. And so it belongs here again, where Barth is doing the same basic thing. Creation is the first work of God—if you've been tempted to think otherwise by McCormack on election, skip ahead and read the thesis for section 41, and then keep reading as Barth explains why. As such, creation is the work of God in which it is most relevant to speak of God's perfections and existence a se. Which is not to say that that aseity, as though it were just the being of God, could be separated from the actions of God who is this way! (Hence the role of election in CD II.2.)
God is and does what God wills to be and do, and that will has nothing of what Bonhoeffer called the penultimate about it: no separation such that we might speak of a being who optionally does things after having them in knowledge and considering them; no hint of an essence that could be separated from the existence of this being, whose existence could therefore come to develop some level of falsehood in that relation. That may be how we are; it is not how God is! The Creator creates, and both of these are immediately predicates of God. To say that in some hypothetical possible world God might have chosen otherwise should not get in the way of saying that God is the one who freely and lovingly chose and did this in the only actual world.

And so, as Barth says, there comes to be something rather than nothing. Except he doesn't say that at all; instead, there comes to be God and something else, and not merely God alone. True nothingness was never on the bill! Still isn't, as our attempts to make use of negation to craft nothingness in ways God never wanted do not result in any actual nothingness. But you'll have to see CD III.3 for that. Regardless: God freely and lovingly chooses that there should be what there had not been before: anything at all that isn't God, anything at all that is different from God, the existence of something else: the non-God creature. And so God's being whatever God wills to be and doing whatever God wills to do overflows gloriously into making this thing exist, by declaring its existence and having it therefore be, where it had not been before. This is the action, of all God's actions, that we have nothing to do with! It is pure and original grace, impossible to taint with questions of merit because what doesn't exist can't be judged worthy or unworthy of anything.

So now we talk about what we as Christians mean by this, and not just what it means generally:
«Schaffen» im Sinn des christlichen Bekentnisses bezeichnet diesen Akt: Sein terminus a quo ist das Wohlgefallen der freien Allmacht der göttlichen Liebe. Sein terminus ad quem ist die von diesem göttlichen Wohlgefallen gewählte, gesetzte, durch sie begründete, bestimmte und begrenzte Wirklichkeit eines Nicht-Göttlichen, dessen Existenz und Wesen darum nur als schlechthinige Abhängigkeit von jenem Akt und also von Gott selbst, also nur im Verhältnis zu ihm verstanden und also nur als die seines, des ihm ganz und gar gehörigen «Geschöpfs» beschrieben werden kann. Wie auch das Verhältnis zwischen Anfang und Fortsetzung der Schöpfung exegetisch und systematisch zu verstehen sei, das ist sicher, daß sie nur als dieser Akt mit seinem so ganz ungleichen Gegenüber, mit seinen so ganz ungleichen Voraussetzungen hüben und drüben verstanden werden kann: nur in dieser Unumkehrbarkeit, nur als dieses von Gott und von der Welt her gleich unbegreifliche, unableitbare, schlechthin kontingente Geschehen, nur als das Geheimnis der Wirklichkeit des Schöpfers und des Geschöpfs, ihres Zusammenseins und der unaufhebbaren Ordnung ihres Zusammenseins. Was immer zwischen Gott auf der einen, der Welt und dem Menschen auf der anderen Seite wahr sein möge, es steht auf dieser Voraussetzung. Und was immer zwischen diesen beiden sich ereignen möge: sein Hinfergrund wird immer dieser Akt, es wird Gott immer in diesem Sinn der Schöpfer, und es wird alle von ihm verschiedene Wirklichkeit immer in diesem Sinn sein Geschöpf sein. |

"Create" in the sense of the Christian confession refers to this act. Its terminus a quo [point of origin] is the good pleasure of the free omnipotence of the divine love. Its terminus ad quem [endpoint] is the reality—chosen, posited, established, determined, and bounded by this divine good pleasure—of something not divine, the existence and essence of which can only be described as absolute dependence upon that act, and so upon God. That existence and essence can therefore only be understood in relation to God, and can therefore only be described as that of God's "creature," which belongs completely and utterly to God. As also the relation between the beginning of creation and its continuation is to be understood exegetically and systematically, it can certainly only be understood as this act with its completely dissimilar counterpart and thoroughly unequal conditions on this and that side: only in the irreversibility of this relation; only as these absolutely contingent events, equally inconceivable and unsusceptible to deductive logic from both God and the world; only as the mystery of the reality of the Creator and the creature, their being together, and the irrevocable ordering of that being-together. Whatever may remain true between God on the one hand, and the world and humanity on the other, is founded on this condition. And whatever may happen between these two, it will always take place against this backdrop, God will always be in this sense the Creator, and all reality different from God will always in this sense be God's creature. |
Schleiermacher, ahoy! This is Barth tweaking his "absolute dependence," schlechthinniger Abhängigkeit, not as something that has to do with our felt experience of it, with Gefühl, but rather in connection with the reality that, at best, we might recognize as the origin of what we should feel, and of the fact that we exist to feel anything in relation to God at all.

And here Barth gestures in the direction of that finite boundary of the act of creation by insisting that it has a beginning and an end: it begins at the event of God freely and lovingly willing something God is happy freely and lovingly to will, and ends in the existence of that thing, with which God is happy. Genesis, out of all the creation tellings in the Bible, puts six days in the middle in order to elaborate a process and describe the nature of things—it's a metaphysics, really—but this isn't strictly speaking necessary; what we must say as Christians, what Barth insists upon saying, is that there are no procedural dependencies between God's willing and the act of creation. In point of fact, the six days of the Genesis narrative are not the act of creation at all! Creation from nothing is presumed to have happened prior to that narrative of the furnishing, the setting-into-order, of the creature already in existence. Of course, that's me and not Barth saying so; Barth's relationship to the hexameron is more fraught.

But the point here, the only necessary point to begin this discussion of the content of the statement that God is the Creator, is that this is the origin of a relationship, of a correspondence between these two things, God and God's creature, in all their unlikeness. And as the origin of that relationship between these two things, because of the fact that they did not simply come to be in relationship as things that both already existed, creation isn't something we can derive from the course and character of our existence. It is especially not such a thing after the Fall, when we have sought to erase the marks of our creatureliness and substitute our own will to shape reality—but Barth reminds us that it wasn't going to be such a thing in the first place. All of our existence has this shape; there is no "before" for us, no basis for comparison, no moment of change from a time when it was not true to a time when it became true. If we deny it, if we reject being God's creatures, we can imagine our history differently, and imagine our relationships with God as things that originate in our times,
with us and our choices—but as creatures we will only understand ourselves correctly when we recognize the fact that we were created, and once were not, and that this relationship with God therefore has only one direction in which it can justly be understood to flow. The cart does not pull itself, or choose its horse; it isn't even our cart!

And now Barth's going to say something that demonstrates a very high opinion of the reality of the creature in its relationship to God indeed:
Denn dieses Schöpfer-Geschöpf-Verhältnis – begründet, bestimmt und begrenzt durch diesen Akt – ist die äußere Entsprechung des inneren Lebens des Vaters, des Sohnes und des Heiligen Geistes, ist die Ausführung der kontingenten Willensentscheidung Gottes in seiner Gnadenwahl. Ist nun die Schöpfung dieses Geheimnis, dann kann zu seiner Erkenntnis nur die Offenbarung Gottes selbst und also als deren Aneignung nur der Glaube in Frage kommen: der Glaube, dem jenes Unbegreifliche, Unableitbare, schlechthin Kontingente nach seinen beiden Seiten faktisch vor Augen steht, dem es selbst sich faktisch vor Augen geführt hat. Eine Erkenntnis des Schöpfers und seines Werkes, die man um den Preis von Umdeutungen und [S.16] Abschwächungen des wirklichen Sinns jenes Prädikates und also anderswie als auf dem Weg der Offenbarung und des Glaubens sich verschaffen möchte, müßte alsbald ihren Gegenstand verfehlen; sie könnte als Erkenntnis des Schöpfers und seines Werkes faktisch nicht vollzogen werden.

Thus this Creator–creature relationship—established, determined, and bounded by this act of creation—is the outer equivalent of the inner life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; it is the carrying out of the contingent decision of the divine will in God's gracious election. If creation is this mystery, then only the revelation of God itself, and therefore only its appropriation by faith, are worth considering as possibilities for its recognition—faith before which that inconceivable, indeducible, absolutely contingent reality actually stands revealed in accordance with both of its two sides; faith to which it has actually revealed itself. A recognition of the Creator's existence and work that one might obtain at the cost of reinterpretation and depreciation of the real meaning of this predicate, and thus by some other way than on the path of revelation and faith, must immediately mistake its object; it cannot in fact be brought to completion as a recognition of the Creator's existence and work.
The relationship between the Creator and the creature corresponds to the relationship between the persons of the Trinity. Heady stuff, and it's going to get Barth in trouble later when he also decides that the male-female gender binary (elided with the distinction between sex characteristics as though gender and sex were identical and strictly binary) likewise corresponds to the relationship between the persons of the Trinity. But we're not there yet, and it nonetheless does something valuable here: it points to the fact that the creation, like the processions and missions of the persons, is something we can only accept and recognize as given to us, as pure grace, as an act of God that may be for us but isn't in any way from us. Revelation is the only source, the only possible source, for this knowledge because even when we feel and recognize our "absolute dependency" on God we have no direct access to how it came to be. Whatever we imagine, whatever we think we can deduce from our existence, whatever images we substitute for that knowledge, can only obscure the important point that there are only two realities here: we come from God, and we are not God.

So that's the end of the large-print portion of this point, and now Barth turns to sourcework to justify and explain his claims. The rest of this passage is small-print excursus, after which Barth turns to point (d) about the character of the creature as "the heavens and the earth." And he begins with Bible scholarship, such as it is at the time: with Kittel's theological dictionary of Bible terms, and with a Genesis commentary written by a liberal Polish rabbi just before he had to flee Germany.
Unter den in der Bibel gebrauchten verbalen Umschreibungen des göttlichen Schaffens (vgl. zum Folgenden den Artikel κτίζειν etc. von W. Foerster Th W B zum NT III) ist das alttestamentliche bara lexikographisch eindeutig, sofern es – es tritt bekanntlich gleich Gen. 1, 1 auf – streng genommen nur das göttliche Schaffen im Unterschied zu allem anderen bezeichnen kann: das Schaffen, dem kein zu bearbeitender Gegenstand schon vorliegt, kein Etwas, aus dem der Schöpfer ein Anderes schaffen würde, die creatio ex nihilo, deren Subjekt nur Gott sein kann und außer Gott niemand, kein Geschöpf. |

(For the following, cf. Werner Förster, "κτίζω, κτίσις, κτίσμα, κτίστης," in Kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, vol. 3, 999–1034.) Among the verbal descriptions of the divine creation in the Bible, the Old Testament bara' (ברא)—which appears, as is well-known, in Gen. 1:1—is lexicographically unambiguous insofar as it can, strictly speaking, only refer to the divine creation in distinction from all others: the creation for which there was no object already lying around to be processed, no something from which the Creator would produce something else; the creatio ex nihilo, whose subject can only be God and no one other than God, no creature.

B. Jacob (a. a. O. S. 22) nennt den Satz Gen. 1, 1 im Blick auf dieses bara «die erste Großtat der Thora, des religiösen Genius Israels». Kann gerade jener Satz verstanden sein, wo man das von ihm zu sagen in der Lage ist, wo man den Ruhm des Gottes Israels, der mit diesem bara verkündigt wird und zu dem es offenbar Anlaß geben will, als einen Ruhm Israels und seines religiösen Genius weiterzugeben für möglich hält? Wo blieb übrigens dieser Genius, als die LXX bara nun doch mit ἐποίησεν übersetzten? |

In view of this Benno Jacob, in Das Erste Buch der Tora: Genesis, übersetzt und erklärt (Berlin: Schocken Verlag, 1934), 22, called the statement in Gen 1:1 "the first major achievement of Torah, of the religious genius of Israel." Can this statement in Gen 1:1 be understood where one can say that of it—where one considers it possible to present the glory of the God of Israel, which is proclaimed with this bara' and which it obviously intends to occasion, as the glory of Israel and its religious genius? Where was this genius when the Septuagint chose to translate bara' with ἐποίησεν?
Now, I say "such as it is" not because this is all there was, nor to justify how badly Barth treats Rabbi Jacob in this instance, but because of how thoroughly indebted he is to Förster's article in Kittel, and how thoroughly wrong it is relative to what Barth is trying to demonstrate. Förster gives a vast and thoroughgoing progressivist overview of salvation history and the history of world religions leading to Christianity at its peak. And it's very much like relying on Zondervan's textbooks for Biblical Greek: so many of the technē are correct, but you have to teach your students to be skeptical of how much interpretation creeps in when they get beyond the most basic details.

And Barth's presentation of Förster's assessment is the same as what you'll find in BDB—itself also an orientalist interpretation from the perspective of Eurocentric Western Christendom, but at least it's a lexicon entry and not an opinion piece like Kittel articles are. The verb in Genesis 1:1 (along with its cognates) is not a verb used, in the Semitic texts the lexicographers had, for actions not attributed to a god. Whatever folks following Phil Hefner might wish to say of human activity, we are not co-creators with God in any scriptural sense. Our action is differentiated from this action, even when it is related.

Whatever else we or Barth may wish to say about creation, this is the key point of this passage: "creation" is the province of God alone, the means by which God ceases to be alone as God. When he gets to the Greek in a few more snippets, we'll see that the Hellenistic world is a bit looser with its analogues ... but they're also working with a pantheon in the first place, and aren't always so particular about what constitutes a god as strict, zealous, polemical monotheists. And as poorly as Rabbi Jacob is used in this passage, the point carries because Barth is being one: let us be sure to attribute the glory to God, and not treat the matter as though the believers, without evidence, were making up a religion and decided this would be a brilliant attribute to give their deity. The issue is not Jewish, much less Christian, religious genius; the issue is God's genius.

Ah, but bara' isn't the only word used for creation in our texts, so let's pan back out from Genesis 1:1 and look at what else we have to work with:
Aber wie dem auch sei: das Wunder des Willens und der Tat Gottes auf der einen und der Existenz und des Wesens des Himmels und der Erde auf der anderen Seite, das mit diesem unübertragbaren Wort bezeichnet ist, ist an dieses Wort nun doch nicht gebunden. Die Bibel des Alten und des Neuen Testamentes ist gerade hinsichtlich ihrer letzten und entscheidenden Worte sparsam und in der Verwendung ihrer vorletzten Worte sorglos. Und so darf man sich nicht wundern, wenn neben dem einzigartigen bara nun doch auch andere Verben als dieses die schöpferische Tätigkeit Gottes beschreiben: Verben, die an sich und abgesehen von ihrem Zusammenhang die Kraft jenes bara nicht hätten, die aber tatsächlich in dessen Licht stehen und von ihm her interpretiert sein wollen: qana, wie κτίζειν: sich erwerben, sich verschaffen, sich zubereiten – jazar, wie πλάσσειν: formen, bilden, so und so gestalten – asa, wie ποιεῖν: herstellen, machen – jasad, wie θεμελιοῦν: begründen. Man kann, wo diese Vokabeln auf das schöpferische Tun Gottes angewendet werden, faktisch nicht im Zweifel darüber sein, daß auch sie eben jenes wunderbare Verhältnis zwischen Gott und dem Gegenstand seines Tuns, jenen unbegreiflichen, unableitbaren, kontingenten Übergang von der allein in Gott selbst begründeten Potentialität in die Aktualität einer anderen Wirklichkeit durch den Vollzug seines, des göttlichen Willens und Ratschlusses bezeichnen. Der alttestamentliche Gott ist in diesem Sinn Schöpfer, und alles Nichtgöttliche steht ihm im Alten Testament in diesem Sinn als Geschöpf gegenüber. |

Regardless: while the miracle of the will and act of God, on the one hand, and of the existence and essence of the heavens and the earth on the other, is indicated by this word whose sense does not carry over, it does not remain bound to this word. The Bible of the Old and New Testaments is particularly frugal with regard to its ultimate and decisive words, and careless in the usage of its penultimate words. And so we should not marvel when, alongside this uniquely valuable bara', other verbs are used to describe the creative activity of God—verbs that outside of their connection with it do not as such have the force of this bara', but which should be interpreted on the basis of the shadows they cast while standing in its light: qanah [קנה] as κτίζειν, "to acquire, get, or produce [sth.] for oneself"; yaṣar [יצר] as πλάσσειν, "to mold, shape, or organize [sth.] thus and so"; `aśah [עשׂה] as ποιεῖν, "to manufacture or make [sth.]"; yasad [יסד] as θεμελιοῦν, "to establish or found [sth.]." Where this vocabulary is applied to the creative act of God, it is virtually impossible to doubt that it signifies this marvelous relationship between God and the object of God's action, this inconceivable, indeducible, contingent transition from the potentiality solely grounded in Godself to the actuality of another reality through the implementation of God's own divine will and decree. In the Old Testament, God is in this sense Creator, and everything that is not divine stands in this sense as creature relative to God.
Okay, so I did just tweak Phil Hefner's nose a minute ago—he's one of my teachers, and this sort of thing is why being a Barthian in religion and science circles often seems to be a contradiction—but here's what Barth is willing to give him: to the extent that God's activity is described in terms of our activities, we have analogues in which we may engage. But ethics is not the point here; Barth is aiming strictly at the univocity, the unequivocal nature, of God's action and the entirely equivocal terms in which it may otherwise also be described.

There may be miracles of which, subordinate and responsive to the living will and spirit of God present with us, humans are capable. Scripture believes there are! But this is not one of them; as a miracle, creation never gets less mysterious.
It never comes within our reach, let alone our grasp. When we use these other words, when we speak of creation as like obtaining, preparing, making, doing, shaping, structuring, or founding something, we are engaged in simile, in describing the mystery with what is within our reach. And that's fine, there's nothing basically wrong with that. With the right combination of these ingredients, we can make meals that in various ways taste like the real thing—and as Barth says, scripture is profligate with its use of these terms! But this approach also risks trying to make Caesar dressing without anchovies. Begin with that from which it begins, respond directly to the genuine cause, and the likeness will be inescapable. Stand in its light, and not any other, and you will cast shadows that are directed by its meaning.

A mystery is not indescribable; it is indefinitely and only insufficiently describable, no matter how much advance we make on its truth. The secret, unlike with Caesar dressing, is not anchovies, or Parmesan, or any other ingredient, however rare; the secret is God! The secret is that all of these ingredients aren't really ingredient to the act of creation; it is not compounded from any of them.

And to make that point, Barth goes after the one term common to Hellenistic language that the translators of the Septuagint rejected wholesale as a possible reference to God's activity:
Es ist bezeichnend, daß die LXX sich gehütet haben, die hebräischen Bezeichnungen für die Schöpfertätigkeit Gottes auch nur einmal mit dem dem Griechen so geläufigen Verbum δημιουργεῖν übersetzen. Ein δημιουργός ist eigentlich Einer, der für die Allgemeinheit eine bestimmte Arbeit leistet: der Seher, der Arzt, der Baumeister, der Herold, der Sänger, dann auch allgemeiner: der Handwerker, und noch allgemeiner: der Fachmann im Gegensatz zum Laien, Einer, der aus einem gegebenen Stoff im Unterschied zu Anderen etwas zu machen versteht. Wird δημιουργός in der griechischen Literatur auf Gott angewendet, so bezeichnet es ihn in diesem Sinn: als den, der die Welt aus der ἀταξία in den κόσμος überführt hat. Der Gott des Alten Testamentes ist auch Weltgestalter, aber nicht nur das, und er ist auch das als Schöpfer. Offenbar im genauen Bewußtsein dessen wollten ihn die LXX mit dem Demiurgen der griechischen Philosophie und Mythologie gerade nicht gleichsetzen. Es blieb der christlichen Gnosis vorbehalten, auch diese Grenze unsichtbar zu machen. Neben dieser Unterlassung ist ebenso eindrucksvoll das Positive, daß die LXX neben ποιεῖν, πλάσσειν, θεμελιοῦν gerade κτίζειν [S. 17] bevorzugt haben und daß gerade κτίζειν von da aus zum eigentlichen term. techn. der göttlichen Schöpfung geworden ist. κτίζειν bezeichnet (so Foerster) «den entscheidenden, grundlegenden Willensakt zur Errichtung, Gründung, Stiftung (einer Stadt, eines Theaters, Tempels, Bades oder dergl.), dem die handwerkliche Ausführung, das δημιουργεῖν, erst folgt». κτίζειν ist seit Alexander dem Großen insbesondere die Sache des im hellenischen Sinn selbstherrlichen, ja an die Götter heranreichenden Herrschers, der, beziehungslos zu dem, was vorher da war, durch sein Wort, seinen Befehl, seinen Willen, hinter dem seine Macht steht, eine πόλις entstehen läßt, die ihre Existenz lediglich ihm als ihrem κτίστης zu verdanken hat, der demgemäß in dieser Stadt göttlicher Ehre teilhaftig ist. |

It is significant that the Septuagint guarded against even once translating the Hebrew terms for the creative activity of God with the verb δημιουργεῖν that is so commonplace among the Greeks. A δημιουργός is properly one who performs a particular job for the general public: the oracle, the doctor, the architect, the herald, the bard; also more generally, one who works a trade, and still more generally, the specialist in contrast with the layperson: one who understands how to make something from one particular material in distinction from others. The term δημιουργός is applied to God in the Greek literature in order to designate God as the one who has transformed the world from ἀταξία into κόσμος, from a state of disarray into a regulated order. The God of the Old Testament is also—but not merely—the world-shaper; this God is that as the Creator. Obviously in recognition of that, the Septuagint did not wish to equate God with the demiurge of Greek philosophy and mythology. The erasure of this boundary remained reserved to Christian gnosticism. In addition to this abstention, the positive fact is equally impressive that the Septuagint preferred κτίζειν over ποιεῖν, πλάσσειν, and θεμελιοῦν, and that κτίζειν became the proper terminus technicus for the divine creation. According to Förster, κτίζειν signifies "the decisive, foundational act of will for the establishment, founding, and endowment (of a municipality, a theater, a temple, baths, etc.), only after which follows the technical execution, the δημιουργεῖν." Since Alexander the Great, κτίζειν in the Hellenistic sense has been the special domain of the autocratic sovereign, indeed of the ruler with pretensions of divinity, who without connection to what came before gives rise to a πόλις through their word, their command, their will, behind which stands their power—a πόλις which owes its existence solely to them as its κτίστης, so that they are the recipient of divine honors in this municipality.
And he's right; the term appears only twice in the Septuagint, both in works not in the standard Protestant canon: once in 2 Macc 4, where the Temple supervisor Simon falsely accuses the high priest Onias of inciting Seleucus IV to send Heliodorus to audit and appropriate the Temple funds (which Simon had in fact done), calling him a δημιουργός τῶν κακῶν; and again in Wisdom of Solomon 15:10–13, where δεμιουργέω is used for the making of idols in direct contrast with πλάσσω for God's making of the idol-maker.

There's a reason Marcion, seeing and rejecting the idea that the creator of this world is also its redeemer, calls the god he sees in the Old Testament, the one theology in his era—but not scripture so much—says is directly responsible for the organization and maintenance of the ordered cosmos, the "demiurge." If we neglect the rest of the Genesis story and focus on the harmonization of chapters 1 and 2 as though the Fall were minor, and as though the garden were the whole cosmos instead of a laboratory in the wilderness, we can—and generally do—ignore the fact that God ejects us from God's chosen demiourgia into the unfurnished realms of the creature. God is indeed the one who gives form to the world, who furnishes it, who engages in technical execution of the details—after also being the one who created its substance, the origin of what God also shapes. But God isn't the only one who engages in
demiourgia; responsibility for order is our curse after the Fall, the curse we chose by seizing it for ourselves. And it is of the heart of sin that, having been released into the world, we then began to equate ordering with creation. The ruler with pretensions of divinity is not a special case, in Christian theology; every one of us is a little Alexander, seeking to be honored as creator and not merely arranger.

That's not to knock the real work involved, the real responsibility we are given, in arranging things. It is not demiourgia itself that is the problem, but the presumptuous irresponsibility to God and one another with which we engage in it—whether we unjustly magnify ourselves by taking credit for works of creation, or by attributing our arrangements to God's creation. There's good and pious sense in seizing upon a word that is not generally reserved to God's action and using it in a technical sense that reproduces that duty of giving credit where credit is due. And so it is κτίσις, it is "create" as a nonspecific word also used of human agency, that we forcibly reserve in a theological sense against that human presumption.

And, of course, we still use all the other words—because we have them, and there's nothing wrong with them as long as the usage honors the reality:
Eine durchgehende Übersetzung von bara mit κτίζειν hat nicht stattgefunden. Gerade in der Schöpfungsgeschichte ist sie unterblieben. Man kann aber sagen, daß sich in diesem griechischen wie in jenem hebräischen Begriff die Richtung abzeichnet, in der das biblische Denken in dieser Sache verlief. Es hat hier wie dort die Richtung auf den in seiner Überlegenheit einzigartigen Charakter, auf das Geheimnis des mit Schöpfung bezeichneten göttlichen Handelns. Man kann dieses Geheimnis nicht radikal genug gelten lassen. Es handelt sich in der Schöpfung nach Hebr. 11, 3 um ein Werden, dem keine φαινόμενα vorangehen und zugrundeliegen, nach Röm. 4, 17 um die Tat Gottes, die nur mit der Auferweckung der Toten zusammen in einem Atem genannt werden kann und die zugleich mit dieser den Gott kennzeichnet, dem Abraham den Glauben schenkte, der ihm zur Gerechtigkeit gerechnet wurde. |

However, bara' has not consistently been translated with κτίζειν. Already this did not take place in the creation-history. Yet we can say that the orientation of Biblical thought on this matter emerges in the Greek concept just as in the Hebrew. Here as there, it is orientation towards the uniquely superior character, towards the mystery, of the divine behavior indicated by creation. No amount of emphasis is sufficient for how radical this mystery is. Creation according to Hebrews 11:3 has to do with a becoming with no prior or underlying φαινόμενα. According to Romans 4:17, it has to do with the action of God which can only be mentioned in the same breath as the revival of the dead; these actions together characterize the God on whom Abraham bestowed his faith, which was reckoned to him as righteousness.
And here we are then, moving away from terminology to imagery, recognizing both the creatio ex nihil and the direct connection between creation and redemption. For resurrection from the dead is not something from something else, a relatively simple matter of transforming our bodies from one state to another, giving us a continuation of our lives. While there remains in scripture a concept of the dead as still relevantly existing, of their conscious being in a place as the dead, it is also relevant to speak of resurrection as bringing something out of nothing. It is the one who created life, whom alone we confess can restore it when it is gone. It is the Redeemer we confess as Creator, and the Creator as Redeemer, because our hope is not in order but rather in its violation by something radically new.

And so of course it is also Jesus whom we confess as both:
Es handelt sich nach einer Reihe von neutestamentlichen Stellen um die καταβολὴ κόσμου, oberhalb derer nach Eph. 1, 4 außer unserer in Jesus Christus geschehenen Erwählung als dem ewigen Willensratschluß Gottes und also außer Gott selbst nichts ist und nichts zu bedenken ist. Und wenn es noch eines Weiteren bedürfte, so müßte uns die Erklärung Ps. 73, 25: «Wen hätte ich im Himmel außer dir? Und wenn ich dich habe, so wünsche ich nichts auf Erden!» es müßte uns die Feststellung Mc. 13, 31: daß der Himmel und die Erde vergehen werden, Jesu Worte aber werden nicht vergehen, und es müßte uns die Apoc. 21, 1, 2. Petr. 3, 13 ausgesprochene Erwartung eines neuen Himmels und einer neuen Erde darüber belehren, welche unergründlich überlegene Tat im Sinn des biblischen Zeugnisses damit bezeichnet wird, daß man sagt, daß Gott diesen Himmel und diese Erde geschaffen hat. Wie soll diese Tat und das auf sie begründete Verhältnis von Schöpfer und Geschöpf nun eigentlich anders als in Jesus Christus und also im Glauben der Zeugen des Neuen Testamentes erkannt und also anders als in Form eine Artikels des christlichen Credo bekannt werden?

According to a range of New Testament passages, creation has to do with the καταβολὴ κόσμου, laying the foundation of the κόσμος, above which according to Ephesians 1:4 nothing would exist or be conceivable without our election in Jesus Christ as God's eternally-willed decree, and so therefore without Godself. And had we need of a few more examples, we must learn from the declaration of Psalm 73:25, "Whom would I have in heaven without you? And if I have you, I desire nothing on earth!"; from the conclusion of Mark 13:31, that the heavens and the earth will pass away, but the words of Jesus will not pass away; and from the anticipation of a new heavens and a new earth expressed in Revelation 21:1 and 2 Peter 3:13 how unfathomably superior is the action about which we say, in the sense of the Biblical witnesses, that God has made these heavens and this earth. How should this action, and the relationship between the Creator and the creature founded in it, be recognized other than in Jesus Christ and therefore in faith in the witness of the New Testament, and so in any other way than as an article of the Christian credo?
So there you have it: an appropriately high view of creation combined with an appropriately low view of the creature and its history. And again: redemption, eschatology, as the novum to be expected not from the culmination of our history as though we were on a path toward a glorious future (for at least some), not as something that could be a product of right ordering of the creature, but as the equal and opposite bracket from our creation. As much and as purely and insistently God's agency and God's glory and God's genius as creation—and Barth will get to where and how world history fits, what it means that it is situated between these spheres of action, both in section 41 and in CD IV. Reconciliation is the defining action of God in the history of the covenant of grace, yes—but after the Fall.


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