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COSMOGONY kŏz mŏg’ ə nĕ, a term composed of Gr. κόσμος, G3180, world, universe, and γόνος, that which is begotten, begetting, originating (related to the verb, γίγνομαι, come into being, be produced). That subject which presents views regarding the creation and origin of the universe and the world.


Biblical cosmogony

Terms used.

The Heb. term, עוֹלָם, H6409, “long,” “duration,” “antiquity,” is sometimes employed in conveying the concept that the universe was created in time and for long duration (Ps 90:2), “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God” (cf. Ps 78:69); and in Ecclesiastes 1:4, “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever” (cf. Ps 148:4-6; 104:5).

The verb πλάσσω, G4421, “form,” “mold,” in our lit. only refers to God’s forming man (1 Tim 2:13), and the noun πλάσμα, G4420, speaks of that which is molded (i.e., a human being) by God (Rom 9:20).

These terms used in the OT and NT testify to a creation which, in its entirety, composed of heaven, earth, and sea in the beginning was made ex nihilo by God and then shaped and destined for long existence. Such a divine creation is looked upon as good (Gen 1:31). The use of the terms finds emphasis on the special creation of man, male and female, made of the previously-created dust from the ground and created in the image of God (1:26).

The creation of the heavens and the earth.

There are several OT and NT passages which stress creation particularly and therefore deserve special attention.

OT passages.

Three passages primarily call for special attention in cosmogony: Genesis 1:1-2:4 and 2:5-25 in the early records of God’s revelation and Proverbs 8:22-31 in a poetic section of Scripture.

Likewise in the NT, ἡμέρα, G2465, “day,” can mean a day of daylight hours (Matt 4:2), a civil or legal day including the night (6:34); longer periods of time, as a generation (John 8:56), the day of the Lord’s Second Coming and judgment (Acts 2:20); and be used to indicate a thousand years in the Lord’s sight (2 Pet 3:8).

The pattern of creative days as long periods of time may be thought of as follows:


First day—darkness, light, day and night (vv. 1-5)

Second day—the expanse or firmament, heaven (vv. 6-8)

Third day—land and vegetation (vv. 9-13)

Fourth day—sun, moon, and stars (vv. 14-19)

Fifth day—sea animals and birds (vv. 20-23)

Sixth day—land animals and man (vv. 24-31)

Seventh day—God’s rest (2:1-3)

Eternity Future

Some have considered the Genesis 1 story of creation as myth, similar to myth stories of Mesopotamia and elsewhere where some of the same created elements as daylight, sun, water, and sky are mentioned, but there is no proof of connection. Any story involving creation would naturally include some of the observable phenomena of nature. Augustine (City of God, XI, 6, 7) falsely interprets the creative days as the spiritual experience of the creature when the creature returns to praise and love of the Creator; but this interpretation is contrary to the obviously total literal historical account of Genesis 1-3.

Some, as John Davis in his A Dictionary of the Bible (1915), p. 153, set forth what might be called a “Double Symmetry” or “Split Week” view which finds symmetrical parallels between the first day (light) and the fourth day (the luminaries); the second day (waters and sky) and the fifth (sea animals and birds of the sky); and the third day (dry land and vegetation) and the sixth (land animals and man). However, it has been observed, for instance, that the third day with its waters differentiated from the dry land fits as well the fifth day with its sea life and birds. (See J. O. Buswell, Jr., A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, vol. 1, 142-144.) Further, this “Split Week” view breaks up the order of events which give the impression of occurring in direct succession.

A proposed problem that light was created on the first day but that the sun appears later on the fourth can be solved by positing the sun breaking through the dense atmosphere of the earth on the fourth day at a time naturally later than the separation of the waters of the heaven (on the second day) and the appearance of the dry land, earth (on the third day).

A related passage is Jeremiah 10:11, 12 where God in His wisdom and power is again depicted as creating the earth and the heavens.

NT passages.

The NT passages which speak of cosmogony present the same viewpoint as the OT, that God created the universe.

d. Romans 1:19, 20. Paul states that men are without excuse as they in their wickedness turn from God, for the Creator has made known unto them in the physical creation evidence concerning His invisible nature, His power and deity. Paul’s teaching is that God sometime in the past created the world, or universe (the phrase is, κτίσις κόσμου); and that ever since that time the things created (τὰ ποιήματα) bring a clear witness to the rational mind concerning that Creator God as to His invisible nature, power, and deity, the implication being that such a visible creation demands a personal and powerful Creator whom men are to worship and serve rather than turning to worship the creation itself (Rom 1:25).

Spatial areas in the creation according to Scripture.

Man’s creation—spiritual as well as material.

Creation in Biblical eschatology.

Extra-Biblical cosmogony


Accounts of creation in Egyptian material are exampled in a text of the 24th cent. b.c. which presents a story involving cosmogony in which the god, Atum-Khuprer, deity of Heliopolis, in the first creation, standing on a primeval hill arising out of the waters of chaos, brings into being the first gods (The Creation of Atum, ANET, 3). In Another Version of Creation by Atum this god is identified with water and the sun disc (ANET, 3, 4).

Semitic and other myths.

In the Ugaritic lit. (c. 1400 b.c.) from Ras Shamra-Ugarit, Syria, conflict is pictured in primeval times between the gods to gain control over the gods, men, and the earth (Poems About Baal and Anath, ANET, 129-142). In Babylonian lit. (early 2nd millennium b.c.) is depicted the struggle between cosmic order and chaos, which was a serious drama for the ancient Mesopotamians re-enacted at the beginning of each new year (The Creation Epic, known in Akkad. as Enūma Eliš, ANET, 60-72). Hittite viewpoint regarding early creation days is seen in the story of the struggle between the Stormgod of heaven and the dragon Illuyankas, the latter being victorious; but then a mortal man, Hupasiyas, gives assistance and the Storm-god finally wins (The Myth of Illuyankas, ANET, 125, 126). In the Sumer. tradition is to be found the Paradise Myth of Enki and Ninhursag which presents, under the figure of human reproduction, procreation of a series of goddesses, and through the god Enki’s semen the sprouting of different kind of plants (ANET, 37-41), but this is a far cry from a real cosmogony. As a matter of fact, none of the Egyp., Sem. and other stories of creative activity bear any real resemblance to the Genesis creation story which presents the universe produced dynamically by a monotheistic sovereign deity.

Greek cosmogony.

Early classical Gr. lit. presents a picture of creation in which material elements are responsible for the creation (on the pattern of human reproduction) of all things including a polytheistic system of divinities who with some of these created materials are counted as supreme. In Homer’s Iliad, 19, lines 258-260, Zeus as first and highest of the gods, with the Earth, Sun, and the Erinyes that are under earth are all counted as important gods in bringing vengeance on men. Hesiod’s Theogony (possibly 900-800 b.c.), 116-119, pictures Chaos as first coming into being, and next “wide-bosomed Earth.” In the cosmology of Hesiod, Earth is a disk surrounded by Oceanus, the river, floats on a waste of waters and is the support for hills (see Loeb, ed., Hesiod, Theogony, footnote, line 117). For Hesiod (Theogony 123-125) from initial Chaos came Erebus and Night, from the latter of which was born Aether (i.e., the bright clear upper stratosphere as different from Aër, the air of the lower earth atmosphere) and Day. Earth is pictured as bearing starry Heaven, and in turn cohabiting with Heaven and bearing deep swirling Oceanus (Theog. 126, 127, 133). It is of such created things that “the holy race of deathless gods” are depicted as having been created as Theogony bears testimony: “deathless gods...born of Earth and starry Heaven and gloomy Night and them that briny Sea did rear” (Theogony 105-107, Loeb tr; cf. also Theog. 44, 45 and 108-111). This line of thought of the material universe producing gods and men was evidently set forth in the Epic Cycle (c. 800 b.c.) which spoke of the union of Heaven and Earth producing three, hundredhanded sons and three Cyclopes (Photius, Epitome of the Chrestomathy of Proclus, through Loeb, Hesiod, p. 481).

It is easily seen that these Gr. ideas of creation are quite different from the monotheistic cosmogony of Genesis. Zeus the great god of the Gr. pantheon was not in any large measure connected with cosmology; and he was not the creator of gods and men. It is true, however, that the Stoics identified Zeus with the highest principle of their philosophy, fire, which they also counted as reason, that principle which permeates and makes alive the universe (see M. P. Nilsson, “Zeus,” Oxford Classical Dictionary, 966). Plato, however, in talking about that person called God, speaks of His being the creator of man’s body; he calls God ὁ ποιω̂ν, “the Maker” (Plato, Timaeus, 76 C).

Views in the inter-testamental period.

Among the extra-Biblical Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphical writings of the inter-testamental period, there are occasional references to the origin of creation and to details of the creation story. These statements in general follow the pattern of the thought regarding creation given in the Biblical account. The suggestion is conveyed in 2 Baruch 21:4 that God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, since God “called from the beginning of the world that which [the earth and the heavens] did not yet exist” (the tr. here and that of other quotations from this lit. are from R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament). Also 4 Ezra 6:38ff. may be interpreted to posit an ex nihilo creation which is stated to have occurred on the first creative day; the words are: “O Lord, of a truth thou didst speak at the beginning of the creation upon the first day, saying, Let heaven and earth be made!”

Reference to creation out of pre-existing material is posited in Wisdom of Solomon 11:17: “For this all-powerful hand, which created the world out of formless matter,” possibly a reference to Genesis 1:2. The activity of the six creative days is described (4 Ezra 6:38-59); Jubilee 2:1-16 sets forth twenty-two acts of creation on the six days. In the Qumran Book of Hymns (10:14ff.) is reference made to the third creative day in the statement, “Thou hast created plants for the service of man” (Gaster tr., Dead Sea Scriptures, 176). Compare also Book of Hymns 1:10 where it is stated, “Thou didst stretch out the heavens for thy glory and command all their hosts to do thy will” (Gaster tr., p. 134). In Sirach 16:24-30 additional information is given of God’s activity after His initial creation in the statement, “After making them, He assigned them their portions.”

Following the theme expressed in Genesis 1:4, 10, 12 etc. concerning the goodness of God’s creation, Sirach 39:16 and 33 state, “the works of the Lord are all good” and in the same document, 42:22, it is remarked, “All His works are truly lovely.”

The inter-testamental writers also comment on the enduring nature of divine creation under God’s providence as in Sirach 16:27 where it is stated, “He arranged His works in an eternal order, And their dominion for all generations.”

Reference is also to God’s special creation of man, as seen in such as Wisdom of Solomon 9:2, “O thy wisdom formed man”; and in Fragments of a Zadokite Work, 7:2, “But the fundamental principle of the creation is, ‘male and female created he them.’”

Neither do the inter-testamental writers omit the theme of a renewed creation as seen in 2 Baruch 32:6, “For there will be a greater trial than these two tribulations when the Mighty One will renew His creation.”

Thus it is seen that the inter-testamental writers were conscious of creation and tended to follow the pattern of Genesis 1, making comments and interpretations regarding its details.

Biblical cosmogony and modern theories

Basic positions.

In viewing the origin of the universe modern man has held generally to any one of the following several positions: an atheistic creation of chance in which nature evolves without divine intervention; a theistic evolution in which God is posited as directing creation by evolutionary processes; a pantheistic evolution in which Nature, along with God, gradually develops since God and nature are one; an agnostic evolution in which one is not sure whether there is a God or whether He plays any part in the creation or not; and special divine creation, in which there is a variety of opinion as to how God accomplished His creative works (cf. esp. B. Davidheiser, Evolution and Christian Faith [1969], ch. 4; and T. D. S. Key, pp. 20-22 in Evolution and Christian Thought Today, R. L. Mixter, ed.). These different viewpoints concern the nature of the origin of the universe as well as the several creative acts which followed.

Process in creation—views held by Christians.

Some of the theories held by modern Christians which have been thought to fit one way or another into the fact of supernatural Biblical creation are as follows:

The Progressive Creative Catastrophism or “Gap” theory by which is posited a gap of indefinite time between Genesis 1:1 and 2 in which time the geological ages developed, and later a literal six days of creation occurred.

The Day-Age Catastrophism theory in which the Heb. word “day” is taken to mean “age,” and such ages may have occurred in the “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and 2, as well as in “days” to follow in which ages God created things suddenly.

The Alternate Day-Age Theory by which is meant that God specially created the various materials in six literal twenty-four hour days in between which were vast geological ages in which these materials developed and adapted, the command, “multiply and cover the earth,” being meant to imply a gap after each day.

The Eden-Only Theory in which it is held that the Genesis creation is basically describing a divinely created Garden of Eden in six literal days, with the rest of the creation activity which is not described in the Bible taking place at spontaneous intervals in the ages before.

The Concurrent or Overlapping Ages Theory which posits that God, not being concerned with time, could have used small as well as large amounts of time for His creation and such creative acts in “days” could have been concurrent or overlapping in time rather than occurring consecutively.

The Revelation Day Theory by which is meant that the creative “days” of Genesis 1 are really twenty-four hour days in Moses’ life in which he received information about God’s previous creative activity; Moses receiving the information about God’s creating light and separating it from darkness, on one day, receiving the facts about the separation of waters on another day, etc.

The Split Week or Double Symmetry Theory which posits that since God is not limited to time, Genesis employs a literary device in which the first three days parallel aspects of the last three days, day one corresponding to day four, day two to day five, day three to day six (see above under Gen 1:1-2:4).

The Progressive Creationism Theory by which it is held that there is no need to posit a “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and 2, that the creative days are to be understood as ages during which in continuous process God from time to time directly and specially made or created the various material things, and finally man as outlined in chs. 1 and 2. There is much to be said in favor of this view. See further discussion under Genesis 1:1-2:4.

Origin of the universe.

Widespread current interest in the origin and nature of the universe is seen in a lead article of the May, 1970, Reader’s Digest, entitled “Of Stars and Man,” by Ira Wolfert, in which he discusses the immensity of the known universe which is posited to have in it at least ten billion galaxies. In discussing a theory of how infinitesimal particles of atoms composed of protons (positive charges) and electrons (negative charges) got together, Wolfert (p. 50) makes the interesting observation, “How these particles came to be is still a mystery, but they are the original of the ‘dust that turns to dust.’” Man through history has asked the question, Where did the universe come from? Among the ancient Greeks the Ionian philosophers in the 6th cent. b.c. posited the universe derived from simple material which came into being from material causes. Later ideas theorized that creation was eternal, or had a beginning, or was supernaturally caused, etc. (See Mixter, Evolution and Christian Thought Today, ch. 2.) On the other hand, the Bible consistently states, as seen above in this article, that a supernatural personal God directly and specially in time and space created the heaven and the earth and all the things in them. It is to be observed, however, that nowhere does the Bible specifically state at what time in the past the universe was created, nor what the original state of the heaven and earth was when made, nor how long God was involved in the creative activity. The science of astronomy has added information which bears on these questions which the Bible leaves open.

Among modern theories as to how the universe came into being and developed are the following:

The Primeval-Atom theory, a view held by a few in which it is postulated that an allinclusive Primeval Atom suddenly radioactively burst some 1010 years ago when concurrently time and space came into being and the natural laws came into force—this was the Creation. But this theory raises some serious questions such as, many stars are too young to be a part of such an original outburst.

A second theory is the Steady-State hypothesis held by some in which it is posited that the universe had no beginning and prob. will have no end, since it is in “steady-state,” it being said that there is no observed continuous change in the universe, although there may be observed some small localized progressions. According to this theory, hydrogen atoms are continually being created in space which form clouds and then galaxy clusters which finally recede out of the limit of observation but new clusters are being created to take their place, such a process being posited as going on for an infinite time. This is the theory of Fred Hoyle (The Nature of the Universe, 111, 112). This hypothesis, as well, presents some difficulties, as, for example, the preliminary evidence that the universe is expanding less rapidly than it did many ages ago following the suggestion from the Palomar’s Hale telescope study that the universe is pulsating; furthermore, no satisfactory natural process of creating matter from nothing has been proposed (see H. Shapley, 32, 33 in The Evolution of Life, Sol Tax, ed.; and G. K. Schweitzer, 43, 44, in Evolution and Christian Thought Today, Mixter, ed.).

A third option is the Superdense State Theory in which it is posited that, assuming a continually constant volume of matter plus energy, the expanding galaxial clusters can be charted back in time to a more concentrated conglomerate mass some six billion years ago. At that remote time, because of the extremely high temperature of this conglomerate mass, in “superdense state,” there occurred an explosion which propelled matter and radiation outward, which in time came to be formed into expanding clouds, planets, stars, galaxies, and galaxial clusters. This is the view of George Gamow, One, Two, Three-Infinity (309, 310). See also Mixter, Evolution (42, 43, 49-51). This Superdense State hypothesis has no answer for the origin of matter, but it might fit into the Genesis 1:2 statement regarding the earth’s being without form and void. However, it is to be noted that knowledge in astronomy is continually increasing and theories about the observable universe as examined by men are constantly changing.

In contrast the Bible’s statements about the origin of the universe gives the answer to the origin of matter: a supernatural God created them out of nothing. The Scripture also tells man that the universe and all the things in it were created specially by a personal all-powerful God.

The Lord has not seen fit to reveal to man in the Bible exactly how or when the creative activity took place. Man in his scientific experimentation may in the future shed some additional light on some of these details not biblically revealed. See Creation.


R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (1913); G. Gamow, One Two Three...Infinity (1947), chs. X, XI; Fred Hoyle, The Nature of The Universe (1955), chs. 6, 7; J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (1955); B. Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1955), 96-102; 139-229; T. D. S. Key, “The Influence of Darwin on Biology,” and G. K. Schweitzer, “The Origin of the Universe,” in Evolution and Christian Thought Today, R. L. Mixter, ed. (1959); H. Shapley, “On the Evidence of Inorganic Evolution,” in The Evolution of Life, Sol Tax, ed. (1960); J. O. Buswell, Jr., A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, I (1962), 134-162; T. H. Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures (1964); Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, Loeb ed. (1967); M. P. Nilsson, “Zeus,” Oxford Classical Dictionary (1968), 966; B. Davidheiser, Evolution and Christian Faith (1969), ch. 4; E. O. James, Creation and Cosmology (E. J. Brill, 1969); W. H. Mare, “The New Testament Concept Regarding the Regions of Heaven with emphasis on II Corinthians 12:1-4,” Grace Journal, XI, No. 1 (1970), 3-12; Ira Wolfert, “Of Stars and Man,” Reader’s Digest (May, 1970), 49-53.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


See Anthropology; Creation; Earth; Evolution; World.