Sr. Louise Zdunich

November 26, 2012

QuestionFor many years, I have been puzzled by the English word "maker" in the Nicene Creed. I was hoping that the revision would address this. Considering the origin of the Creed, its history and the usage of the word "make," wouldn't a better translation be "creator" like in the Apostles' Creed?


AnswerI have consulted various sources, including our best theologians to help clarify this issue.

Your concern takes us back to the two creation stories in Genesis which come from different sources: the Yahwist and priestly accounts. In the first chapter of Genesis: "God created the heavens and the earth" (v.10) and in the second: "God made the earth and the heavens" (v.4).

In Genesis 1, God creates the birds and fish and they are blest. God makes the things of the earth but they do not get a blessing.

In verse 26, God says: "Let us make humankind in our image" but in verse 27, we are told God created humankind. Verse 26 comes from the Yahwist account where things made from the earth are different from those which in verse 27 of the priestly account are created and blest.

It seems that something - "a formless void" (Genesis 1.2 NRSV) or "trackless waste and emptiness" (Jerusalem Bible) - already existed from which God made "all that is seen and unseen." Today, we learn most of what exists in the universe is "dark matter or energy," therefore "unseen."

The Bible does not clearly state that creation means "from nothing." The only explicit indication is in 2 Maccabees: "Look at the heaven and earth and everything in them and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed" (7.28).

But even that seems to be contradicted by the Book of Wisdom which says "created the world out of formless matter" (11.17). These are both deuterocanonical books.

Scripture seems to give preference to "made": "I am the Lord who made all things" (Isaiah 44.26). In Acts, "they raised their voices to God saying, 'Lord who made the heaven and the earth, the sea and everything in them'" (4.24).

Hebrews compares building a house and creation: "Every house is built by someone but the builder of all things is God" (3.4). He almost seems to reject creation from nothing: "What is seen was made from things not visible" (11.3).

The words "make" and "create" can be and often are used interchangeably. The dictionary gives the meaning for "make" to construct, form, etc., but also to create. We follow this pattern in everyday speech: art works are created while tables are made. Both require materials and skill to put them together. So neither are made from nothing.

The story of creation tells us not how things were made but rather that God is the origin or first cause of everything, without exception.


"Make" seems more generic with a broader meaning than "create." Therefore, the broad sweep at the beginning of creation uses the word "make." This allows later the more explicit "begotten" to negate the idea that the Father made or created the Son in the same way as everything else.

Therefore, the Nicene Creed's statement "begotten, not made" addressed the Arian heresy, which asserted that the Son was either created or made and that he was not eternal. This also allows the later statement that all things were made through the Son since his existence had no beginning.

One can also consider "create" as dealing with the coming into existence of the broader concept of heaven and earth while "make" has to do with specific things, referring to "all things visible and invisible."


While "making" and "creating" are interchangeable, "begetting" is different. An object that is "made" is distinct from, not part of the maker. It exists out there. God made the universe and nature but they are distinct from God.

When one is begotten, the result is the same kind of being, of the same substance as the one who begets. Jesus was not created or made like the rest of the universe. The term "begotten" refers to a permanent, eternal relationship, not an event in time.

The Creed goes on at length to refute Arius - "the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father, through him all things were made." It almost seems to say: "Do you finally get it?"

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