Does the use of ברא (bara) in Genesis 1 prove ex-nihilo creation?

While I firmly believe that Scripture and science both support the idea of “ex nihilo” creation, I must reject the suggestion that the use of the Hebrew verb “bara” alone proves “ex nihilo” creation because the arguments advanced to support this proposal can be easily shown to be inaccurate. The arguments are:

1) “bara” is used only when God is creating something out of nothing.

2) “bara” is only used when God himself is the subject of the verb.

One of the strongest arguments against the idea that the Hebrew verb “bara” only conveys the idea of creating something “ex nihilo” can be found in the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 1:27 the verb “bara” is used both to describe God’s creation of man in his image and to describe God’s creation of man as both male and female and this use of “bara” is repeated identically in Ge. 5:1-2 and Duet. 4:32. However, in Ge. 2:7 we are told that God created man, not “ex nihilo”, but from the dust of the earth, and in Ge. 2:21-22 we are told that God created woman, not “ex nihilo”, but from the rib of the man. Van Leeuwen notes that “The root br’, Genesis 1, or creation by the word cannot explicitly communicate a doctrine of creation ex nihilo” (Ref. NIDOTTE vol 1, page 732).

The strongest argument against the idea that “bara” is only used when God is the subject of the verb is seen in the verses in Scripture where a subject other than God is used with this verb. One could possibly make the argument that the verb is always used with God as the subject in the Old Testament Scriptures with a sense of “to create” as English speakers would understand that concept, but even this argument breaks down when we examine the relationship between usages where the verb is used with God as the subject and usages where men are the subject from a Semitic perspective. Westermann and F. Delitzsch note that “the semantic development from “cut” to “create” is a natural one. By “cutting,” a particular shape is given to an object, as it were, comes into being.” This kind of semantic development of Semitic roots is quite common and similar patterns of development can be seen a great number of Hebrew verbs. The following is one example where this verb is used in the OT and God is not the subject of the verb.


And Joshua said to them, “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.” (Jos 17:15 ESV)

  (Joshua 17:15) וַיֹּ֙אמֶר אֲלֵיהֶ֜ם יְהוֹשֻׁ֗עַ אִם־עַם־רַ֤ב אַתָּה֙ עֲלֵ֣ה לְךָ֣ הַיַּ֔עְרָה  וּבֵרֵאתָ֤ לְךָ֙ שָׁ֔ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ הַפְּרִזִּ֖י וְהָֽרְפָאִ֑ים כִּֽי־אָ֥ץ לְךָ֖ הַר־אֶפְרָֽיִם׃

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