(2 Pet. 3:5) Did Peter believe that God created the universe from water or from nothing as Genesis teaches?

CLAIM: Some critics of the Bible believe that Peter was using ancient Greek philosophy to describe the existence of the world (Thales of Miletus).[1] Is this the case?

RESPONSE: Several observations are in order.

First, Peter uses the phrase “heavens and earth” in this section. Because he uses these words, he shows that he is familiar with the Genesis account, which depicts creation out of nothing. A number of other OT and NT would affirm that this was the view of the Jews and Christians.

(Isa. 44:24) Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, “I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone.”

(Ps. 90:2) Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

(Prov. 8:25-30) Before the mountains were settled, before the hills I was brought forth; 26 While He had not yet made the earth and the fields, nor the first dust of the world. 27 When He established the heavens, I was there, when He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when He made firm the skies above, when the springs of the deep became fixed, 29 when He set for the sea its boundary so that the water would not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth; 30 then I was beside Him, as a master workman.

Of course, this is not a reference to Christ. This is a poetic personification of wisdom (Prov. 8:22). Wisdom is being personified in Proverbs 8. That being said, this passage shows that God (and his wisdom) existed before the created order. We read the same teaching of creatio ex nihilo in the NT:

(Jn. 1:3) All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

(Heb. 11:3) 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.

Second, Peter is thinking of God’s organization of the world—not the creation of the world. In the Genesis account, the land (earth) arises from the water. We shouldn’t interpret this as referring to God’s creation of matter and energy. Rather, God was bringing the land (or earth) up from the water, as Genesis describes: “Then God said, ‘Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear’” (Gen. 1:9). As Schreiner writes, “God used the water as an instrument in forming the world.”[2]

Third, Peter’s point is to show that creation has changed, and judgment is imminent. God created through water, but he also destroyed through water. The reason Peter brings up this subject of creation was mainly to show that God created “by water” (v.5), and he also destroyed “by the same word” (v.7). Just as God brought the land out of the water (Gen. 1:9), he also submerged the land by water (Gen. 6-7). This fits with the context of 2 Peter, because he later describes that God is going to judge the world again at the end of time. As Gene Green writes, “The notion that land would appear as the waters were separated and gathered is the most common note in this tradition, and this thought is likely what Peter has in mind. The point that Peter makes, however, is linked with his purpose. The earth came out of water, but the water turned and destroyed the earth (3:6). God, the sustainer of the earth, is also the judge of the earth.”[3]

[1] See Copan and Craig for an explanation of this critical view, as well as their response. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration (Leicester, England: Apollos, 2004), 87-90.

[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 376.

[3] Gene L. Green, Jude and 2 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 320.