Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Religious Studies

First Advisor

Dabney, Lyle

Second Advisor

Del Colle, Ralph

Third Advisor

Dempsey, Deirdre


Out of dialogue with Old Testament studies and the sciences, there has been a rise in recent years in the use of "chaos" language by theologians in their articulation of a theology of creation. There has been little uniformity in how the word is used among the fields, or even within some fields—especially by biblical scholars doing ancient Near East comparative studies. Under the umbrella of this popular terminology, some ideas have found refuge whose theological implications warrant evaluation.

Within this dissertation the range of ideas that fall under "chaos" within the physical sciences, Old Testament studies, and theology is identified and evaluated. However, the more focused evaluation is on the appropriateness of the choice to apply the term to particular circumstances, whether that is entropy or unpredictability in science or the tohu wabohu and tehom of Genesis 1:2 in biblical studies. Choosing the term "chaos" as a label reflects an interpretation of the data and shapes subsequent thinking and speaking about the data. As much as reflect the world (the facts), it construes a world/worldview in which scholars work in their fields. The implications of the ideas that have been developed under "chaos" are evaluated herein, but it is the initial application of the term to the data that is the root issue which receives the greater focus.

After critiquing the current uses of "chaos" in the physical sciences, in interpretations of Genesis 1 by scholars such as Jon D. Levenson, and in the creation theologies of contemporary theologians like Catherine Keller, an alternative grammar of creatio ex nihilo and God's relationship to creation is proposed. This framework builds upon the pneumatology of Lyle Dabney—in which he develops the language of "possibility" and the Spirit operating "trans"–creation—by developing the idea of the Word operating transcarnate to creation. It is within this framework that it is suggested that "chaos" be used as a label for circumstances where any part of creation expresses itself discordantly with God and neighbor, both with whom God makes possible for it to participate in loving community.