Q & A Series: Is God the Only One Who Can Create Life?

Question:

Is God the only one who can create life from inanimate material? In light of Exodus 7:11–12 and other passages, is it possible that angels can also create life? (We’re not talking about procreation here.)

Answer:

Until recently, I would have been quite sure how to answer this question. In fact, some of my fellow believers and scholars might chastise me for even considering an alternative to what is the commonly accepted answer to this question. Nevertheless, I think this could be a helpful discussion, and I am very open to receiving input and correction from Scripture if my answer is inaccurate.

You may have guessed that the traditional answer is a resounding “Yes! Of course, God is the only one that can create life from inanimate objects.” While that sounds great and doesn’t rock the theological boat, I have recently considered the possibility that our answer should be something else.

Let’s take a look at Exodus 7:10–12.

So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh, and they did so, just as the LORD commanded. And Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent.
But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said. (Exodus 7:10–13)

You are probably familiar with the context. God told Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. This was their second confrontation (the first was in Exodus 5), and God had instructed Moses to have Aaron throw down his staff before Pharaoh. When he did, the staff “became a serpent.” (Interesting side note: the word translated as serpent here is different than the normal word for serpent, which appears in Exodus 4:3 where God turned Moses’ staff into a serpent—the word here is tanniyn, which is elsewhere translated as “dragon” in the KJV.)

The text states that the magicians “did in like manner with their enchantments. For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents.” The straightforward reading of this text seems to state that the magicians (through “occult practices” as the HCSB translates it) were able to do the same thing. That is, the magicians actually were able to make their rods become serpents.

Now, my gut reaction to this has always been to think that there’s no way they could have actually done this since God is the only one who can create life. Other commentators obviously feel the same way, since I have read several explanations that I think explain away the clear meaning of the text. Some claim that they used sleight of hand, illusions, or they had manipulated the animals so that they were rigid serpents in their hands and looked like rods but writhed about when they hit the floor.

Let’s consider the straightforward reading as a possibility: using occult (demonic) powers, the magicians were actually able to turn their rods into serpents. Is this a legitimate possibility from a biblical perspective? Before answering this, let’s look at two other passages.

We know that Satan and his angels (demons) are more powerful than man. While some people ascribe too much power to Satan (such as those who think, or at least act as if he is omnipresent), most American Christians today probably underestimate his abilities. In Job 1, he was able to kill Job’s sheep and servants with fire that “fell from heaven” (Job 1:16). Yes, I know that the verse states that “fire of God fell from heaven,” but these were the words of a servant who was unaware of the conversation that had just taken place between God and Satan in heaven (Job 1:6–12). Fire from heaven may very well refer to lightning, so it seems that Satan is capable of manipulating the weather to some degree or actually causing fire to come down from the sky.

But if we look back in 1 Kings 18, I think we can learn an important lesson about Satan’s abilities (or at least those of his demons). In this chapter we read about Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel. Elijah challenged these false prophets to see whose God would respond by lighting an offering on fire upon an altar. The prophets of Baal did their various rituals and nothing happened. But Elijah commanded people to dowse his altar with water three times (in the midst of a drought) and God still consumed the sacrifice and the altar with fire. From the passage in Job we know that Satan was fully capable of causing fire to fall that could have consumed the sacrifice. Why didn’t he or one of his demons do it then? I believe it was because God did not allow him to do it at that time. You see, Satan has tremendous power, but he cannot go beyond what God permits at any given moment.

Let’s look at one more passage and then we’ll go back to the Egyptian magicians. In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul told his readers that Christ’s return would not take place until the “man of sin” or “son of perdition” had been revealed. I believe this is a reference to the Antichrist. In verse 9, Paul said that this man’s coming would be “according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders.” Jesus also spoke of this time and said that false christs and false prophets would rise and “show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). So the New Testament affirms that Satan has the ability to perform “great signs and wonders” that are so convincing that if it were possible, the elect would be deceived. Could these signs and wonders include the creation of life, or perhaps bringing someone back to life? (Some scholars think that Antichrist will be killed and then resurrected, according to Revelation 13:3, but that seems to be more than what the text states).

So what did all of that have to do with the Egyptian magicians? Well, we can see that Satan has tremendous power and is capable of performing “great signs and wonders.” So is it possible that God allowed Satan or his demons to give Pharaoh’s magicians the power to turn rods into serpents? At this point, in light of the above teachings in Scripture and the straightforward reading of the text, I believe it is possible. Maybe that is exactly what happened.

But why would God allow something like this? Wouldn’t that simply mislead Pharaoh and others in attendance and discourage Moses and Aaron? Well, God had already told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not free the Israelites right away. This may have been one of the ways in which God did that. Pharaoh may have initially been impressed (or worried) by the miracle of Aaron’s rod turning into a serpent, but when he saw his own magicians do the same thing, why would he think that the God of the Israelites (Yahweh) was more powerful than his own gods? Actually, his magicians were able to do the next two signs as well. They turned water into blood (Exodus 7:22) and caused frogs to fill the land (Exodus 8:7). But they could not create lice from the dust or any of the other plagues and recognized the third plague (lice from dust) as “the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).

Throughout the ten plagues that befell Egypt, God demonstrated His power over the various gods of the Egyptians. Even when the rods were turned into serpents, the serpent from Aaron’s rod swallowed the other serpents.

So even though Satan may have incredible power, we know that God is always in control, and that Satan can never go beyond what God permits—even if that means He allows Satan to create life.

If you know of a passage in Scripture that clearly teaches that only God can create life, or that Satan and/or demons cannot create life, then please let me know, so I can correct this. Like I said, my gut reaction is that they cannot, but I tend to think this passage shows that they did.

This entry was posted in Q & A, Theology and tagged , by Tim Chaffey. Bookmark the permalink.

About Tim Chaffey

I am the founder of Midwest Apologetics and work as the Content Manager with Ark Encounter. I have written (or co-authored) several books, including Old-Earth Creationism on Trial, God and Cancer, The Sons of God and the Nephilim, and The Truth Chronicles Series (see the publications page for more details). Please note: the opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Answers in Genesis.

Comments

Q & A Series: Is God the Only One Who Can Create Life? — 6 Comments

  1. After leaving that reply on July 4th, and seeing Tim’s excellent response, I decided to revisit the subject and look more closely at the words of the text to see if maybe I was the one who was mistaken. Like Tim, I did not want to believe that demons could create life or could help humans to turn non-life into life. If a devil (or a man working with a devil) could really and truly turn a dead piece of wood into a living serpent or dragon, then their power was virtually unlimited. Imagine you’re about to win an argument with an antagonistic skeptic, and suddenly the demon working with him decides to stop talking and instead turn a stick near your feet into a rattlesnake which immediately proceeds to bite you! If demons have that kind of power, I thought, then they wouldn’t need the help and expertise of occultic magicians to perform these kinds of activities, and we’d be seeing that sort of thing happening all the time. Schools like Hogwart’s would spring up all over the planet, where people could learn the dark arts from the masters, and (with no strict rules about keeping “muggles” ignorant) belief in the occult would suddenly turn global. The argument that God would not allow that sort of thing rang very weak to me. After all, God does in fact allow quite a lot of really heinious things. Demon possession and mass murder and racial cleansing and sex slaves and gang rapes of little children and gut wrenching mental illnesses like dementia and extremely painful physical diseases that destroy lives and cripple families … it seems a little odd that, after all that, God would draw the line at turning sticks into snakes (except in extremely rare occasions). The starvation of millions of children in impovershed nations goes on all day long, day after day, year after year, in plain view all over the planet. It seems to me, if anything, the knowledge that there are real demons out there performing real miraculous acts would turn people toward Christ in droves as they run to Him for His protection. As you can see, this is still a hot subject for me.

    But the fact is, if the Bible is true (and I am convinced that it is), Exodus 7:12 clearly says that Aaron’s rods swallowed up the magicians “rods” ?????? (matteh). I wanted so much to find that that word matteh was not there in the Hebrew, and hoped the word rod had been added by the King James translators. But, alas, there it was. And when I double checked in the LXX, there it was in the Greek as well (??????=staff). If the magicians had surreptitiously swapped the rods for snakes, then it wasn’t those same rods Aaron’s serpent swallowed, but the scriptures say it was. So, though I was very resistant to the idea, what else could I do? Like the doctrine of hell, it’s a doctrine I loath with every fiber of my being. But the biblical evidence is in favor of it, and so now I must eat crow and reverse my position. But even as I do that, though I no longer expect to find one, I am keeping my eyes open to another solution.

    • No sooner had I written those words “I am keeping my eyes open to another solution” when it hit me like a slap in the face. The Egyptian magicians didn’t arbitrarily turn their rods into snakes as if they could have turned them into dogs or elephants or anything else they wanted, or as if they could have turned rocks into turtles or silverware into dancing Disney characters (like in the animated film Beauty and the Beast). The rods may have already been serpents (or more likely, small dragons), and the magicians were simply releasing them from their alternate form. The same was probably true of Moses’ and Aaron’s rods. God had punished a fallen Seraphim (or it’s offspring) by turning it first into a natural small dragon, and then into a wooden staff. God could, at will, allow the staff to resume its serpentine form if and when that served His purpose. The same was true of all the Egyptian magicians’ staves. These mere humans couldn’t turn any kind of inanimate object into any living breathing creatures they wished. They could just release certain creatures temporarily from their cursed condition long enough to shock and amaze their audience. Had God not turned the Seraphim (or, more likely, some of their descendants), into dragons in the first place, and then into wooden sticks, the magicians would not have been able to do what they did.

      There. Now I can vomit up that crow I ate earlier … though Tim may show me something that will make me swallow it again. (Sorry for the gross images, but it describes pretty accurately what I feel like when I have to humble myself!)

    • God allowed the rod to turn into a serpant it was not mans doing but god working through man later on in exodus it says God hardened Pharophs heart. So from my understanding ,and I am no biblical scholar, God was also working throughout the “magicians” to prove his point that the devil is no match for God I mean come on 3 on 1 and Gods snake ears them all that’s pretty cool. One thin I did find cool was that God chose the rod to turn into a snake the snake is often the form the devil takes ,ie geniuses and the garden of Eden when he temps eve he comes to he as a serpent, but still I believe Jesus was not only working through Moses and Aaran but also the magicians by telling there staffs to turn into a snake. Man cannot make life from nothing that’s Gods job I we could make life from nothing there would be no need for God. Jus my opinion but I like this topic you have a good point. Thanks

  2. Hi Tim,
    Nathan said, “I don’t believe that slight of hand or illusion was used to change the magician’s rods. I believe they truly transformed into serpents otherwise the feat of Aaron’s serpent swallowing them up would have been… somewhat hollow and a lot of hot air.” I disagree completely. Have we forgotten that Pharoah’s magicians were magicians? There are countless magicians and illusionists today who could have performed those same tricks, or even much better ones. I have seen magicians turn beautiful women into tigers, but no one would suggest that is what they are really doing. What the writer of Exodus 7 is doing is describing how it appeared to everyone there, not what actually happened. Aaron’s staff was the only one that really turned into a serpent, because God alone has that kind of power. The Egyptian magicians thought Aaron had performed the same sort of “sleight of hand” that they were experts at, and easily recreated the results through the use of prestidigitation. They obviously had no real supernatural power because they could not turn dust into lice (8:18), and when Aaron did it they realized in amazement that a real God was at work (v.19). That demonstrates that previously they had thought Aaron had only been perfoming illusions, the same kinds they knew how to do themselves. Also, they could not cure their own boils (9:11). If demons can really turn inanimate objects (wooden rods) into living things (snakes), then certainly we would expect to see that happening somewhere in the world today, and would be able to document it scientifically. Is that the case? At the very least we would expect to see other examples elsewhere in the Bible. Also, Satan asked Jesus to prove He was the Son of God by turning a stone into bread (Luke 4:3). If Jesus had complied, and demons can truly work through people to turn one thing into something else, all Jesus would have proved is that He had the same power as a demon, or had access to that power. The Greek expression in 2 Thess. 2:9 (the power of the antichrist) is pseudous terasin, which probably means “fake miracles”. Real miracles are worthless as signs of God’s presence if anyone who collaborates with a demon can perform them. If it is a true miracle, then God Himself is the one who sent it (2 Thess 2:11; Job 2:3).

    • Hi Tom,
      Thanks for reading and for your comments. I would like to agree with much of what you said, but once again, the text states that the Egyptian magicians did the same thing as Aaron. We shouldn’t impose our modern understanding of magicians (stage illusionists) on those who are involved in all sorts of occult activity. The Bible says that they did this through their secret arts (or occult powers). In this case, I don’t think it’s as easy as saying that they just appeared to do it (as in the case of an illusion), since that would mean that the eyewitness who wrote this down (Moses) would have been fooled and misled his readers.
      Also, I think we too often forget that Satan and his angels can only go as far as God allows. That is, they may have the ability to do certain things, but may not be allowed to do them except in certain situations. Perhaps God allowed them to do it in this case because it led to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Then at some point, maybe God didn’t allow them to do it anymore because He wanted to show His complete superiority before everyone.
      I agree that the Antichrist will use lying (“false”) wonders (2 Thess. 2:9), but the word “false” does not appear before the first two descriptions of his coming: “all power, signs.”
      I think your argument about the temptation of Jesus is probably your strongest one, because I think the other two dodge or change the straightforward reading of the text. One could respond to this argument by saying that if He performed this act, Jesus would be demonstrating His supernatural ability by turning a stone to bread, thus demonstrating that He wasn’t just a human being. And since He wasn’t a demon or an angel, then this would be a man who had supernatural abilities (and Satan would know that it wasn’t through demonic power, leaving one other option–His power was from God). Plus, although you and I might disagree here, Satan knew exactly who Jesus was/is. I don’t believe Satan was on a mission to find out who Jesus was.

  3. Tim -

    It’s late and I am only just connecting with some of your sites, but this article caught my eye. I may determine to research it further in the morning. I may however forget though so I take this time here to put forth some thoughts of my own.

    First off, my opinion, I don’t believe that slight of hand or illusion was used to change the magician’s rods. I believe they truly transformed into serpents otherwise the feat of Aaron’s serpent swallowing them up would have been… somewhat hollow and a lot of hot air. I should think God would not do something for mere showmanship. The death of every first born child was certainly not a bit of Hollywood play acting.

    With that said, I also would hesitate to say that angels or demons have the ability to create anything. See the following:

    -John 1:3 “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” refering of course to Christ Jesus.

    -Also Revelation 4:11, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”

    -It may even be appropriate to reference Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.” Perhaps this one could be seen as a stretch, but I have found myself repeating these 2 versus to myself time and again in life when my mind wanders to and fro about a particular item, idea, invention, or fad.

    So my next step would be to consider your statements in reference to Job and Elijah and the power placed at Satan’s disposal for each circumstance. I believe regardless of what physically or chemically may have transpired, should we have witnessed this first hand, it would have only been by the allowed power God permitted to be used in each circumstance as you address and so too does the Scripture. So perhaps this is indeed what happened, but then the end result would still be that God created all things including the magician’s serpents Himself that he may be glorified. Certainly by those who witnessed it and again by those of us who receive it through His word.

    Alright, so here then is my own submission to your essay. Would it be reasonable to consider that perhaps demons/fallen angels/”sons of God” (as ascribed in Job 1:6) were actually present in the court of Pharoah? Perhaps they were the magicians themselves? That when the rods of the magicians were tossed that somehow they (demons or what have you) physically manifested themselves into the rods to transform them to serpents? I don’t know. There are several different Scriptural references to angels both fallen and loyal today that have taken on other forms besides their much more glorious angelic forms. I confess this seems a bit on the outside of probabilty especially if viewed in context of the Scripture’s lack of mentioning that Satan, sons of God, or fallen angels were present in any of these exchanges. Add to that fact that indeed they are mentioned as being present in other places and times in Scripture.

    I suppose I will conclude with this; since God didn’t set in writing the means by how the magicians conjured up their serpents it may be that it isn’t important to Him for us to know these things. Also, the only legitimate evidence I have to support any thoughts I might have are in the quoted Scriptures above. (Being that you’re an author I find myself overly critical of my own writing abilities, but I hope there are not to many grammar, syntax, or spelling mistakes. Typing in this little window makes proof reading a bit tedious.) See you on Sunday!

    Nathan

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