Did the Fall Have Consequences on Creation? Romans 8:18–22

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Answers in Genesis has often warned about the consequences of synthesizing evolution and millions of years into the text of Scripture since this not only affects how the early chapters of Genesis are interpreted, but it also affects the coherency and internal consistency of the biblical message of Creation, the Fall, and redemption.

Evolution and the Erosion of the Fall

A text that is very relevant to our understanding of Genesis 3, and the result of God’s cursing the entire creation, is Romans 8:18–22. Unfortunately, one consequence of many evangelical theologians having adopted the idea of evolution and millions of years into their thinking is that passages like Romans 8:18–22 are now being interpreted very differently.

For example, New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham, commenting on Romans 8:20, recognizes that most exegetes believe this to be a reference to the Fall in Genesis 3 where God curses the ground because of Adam’s sin. However, he believes,

Paul is not referring to some drastic change in the natural world that followed from the fall of Adam and Eve, such as the introduction of death for the animal creation. This traditional view is impossible to reconcile with modern knowledge (animals were dying many millions of years before the first humans appeared on Earth).1

Interestingly Bauckham’s reason for rejecting the traditional view, biblical view is not the text of Scripture but the evolutionary interpretation of the fossil record, which is why he must come to the conclusion that there was animal death before the Fall.2 It is important to remember that the evolutionary interpretation of animal death in the fossil record from “modern knowledge”3 is only that—an interpretation based upon anti-biblical philosophical presuppositions, such as the presupposition that the present is the key to the past. Bauckham prefers to see Paul’s comments in Romans 8:20 as referring to the

ecological degradation and desertification of the kind the prophets [Joel 1:10–12; 17–20] indicated when they portrayed the Earth mourning, the soil losing its fertility, plants withering, animals dying.4

Like Bauckham, Old Testament scholar and old-earth creationist C. John Collins believes that Romans 8:18–22 is often seen as Paul’s version of the curse in Genesis 3, describing a world fallen from its innocence. Yet, he sees a number of problems that should keep us from reading Paul this way:

  • It may be that Paul had Genesis 3 in mind, though he is not explicitly alluding to it.
  • The words of the passage here do not use the terms of Genesis 3:16–19 (LXX).
  • Nor is there any mention of a curse.
  • The Creation is “subjected to futility” because it has sinful mankind in it, and thus it is the arena in which mankind expresses its sin and experiences God’s judgments.
  • The position I have argued, however, is more consistent with Paul’s focus on human glorification and with the picture of Genesis, which does not view the created world as changed in its workings but as the arena in which God works out his purposes for mankind.5

The question we need to ask is this: does Paul in Romans 8:18–22 teach that the creation is groaning because of the consequences of Adam’s sin in Genesis 3 or is this a misreading of the text?

Romans 8:18–22

Romans 8:18 sets up the context for verses 19–22 in which Paul writes that the Christian’s suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to come:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.

The Greek word for creation (ktisisκτίσις) in verse 19 has been the subject of some debate, but in context it clearly refers to the non-human creation; the creation is distinguished from humanity in verse 21.6

In verse 20 Paul explains why creation is anticipating the revealing of the sons of God. The reason Paul gives “is that the subhuman creation itself is not what it should be, or what God intended it to be.”7 It is this way because Adam’s sin spoiled God’s very good creation (Genesis 1:31), and as a consequence it is now in frustration. But who subjected it to frustration? A number of suggestions have been made: 1) Adam who brought sin and death into creation, 2) Satan whose temptation led to the fall, 3) God who cursed the creation in Genesis 3:17. Moo rightly sees God as the one who subjected it to frustration, as He “alone has the right and power to condemn all of creation to frustration because of human sin.”8 Schreiner also believes Paul is probably drawing on the tradition found in Genesis 3:17–19, in which creation is cursed by God due to Adam’s sin. He points out that “futility” means that creation has not filled the purpose for which it was made.9 Moreover, the term “subjected” “ὑπετάγη [hypetagē] is a divine passive (subjected by God) with reference particularly to Gen. 3:17–18.”10

Paul’s comments in Romans 8:20, contrary to Dr. Collins’s claims, clearly reflect his belief that the Fall brought about a change in the workings of creation. It is important to keep in mind that Paul has already discussed how the Fall brought about changes in creation. In Romans 1 he demonstrates how the Fall11 changed mankind’s view of God, as now in the “futility” (8:20) of their mind they worship the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18–25). A more specific change in creation is the entrance of sin and death that came into the world through Adam’s disobedience (Romans 5:12–19), a clear reference to Genesis 3. In Romans 8:18–22 Paul continues to trace the consequences of Adam’s disobedience to the futility to which creation has been unwillingly subjected and is now corrupted because of his disobedience.

What's more, if Paul did not have Genesis 3 in mind, then the question is when did God subject the creation to futility? There is nothing in Genesis 1 that indicates that there was any kind of corruption in the original creation (Genesis 1:29–31).12 If Creation were already in a state of futility at its creation, then how could it be subjected to corruption, since it would already be in that state? God’s subjecting the creation is clearly a reference to the curse in Genesis 3:17.

But what about Bauckham’s argument that Romans 8:20 is not a reference to Genesis 3, but to Joel 1:10–12 and 17–20? A number of things should be said here. First, there is no obvious link to Joel 1 in Romans 8 in which Paul has already made a very clear link to creation and Genesis in the overall context of Romans (1:18–23; 5:12), and he clearly continues that link with a reference to Genesis 3. Moreover, numerous commentators recognize that in Romans 8 Paul is drawing on Genesis 3:16–19 in which creation is cursed, by God, because of Adam’s sin.13 Second, there is no specific act of human sin in Joel 1 that would result in God’s judgment on creation. Third, Genesis 3:17 and 8:21 speak of the curse on the ground, while Genesis 5:29 explicitly refers to the curse in Genesis 3, and Deuteronomy 28 speaks of the curse that would come upon Israel’s land, crops, and animals if they were disobedient. Therefore, the connection between man’s sin and the earth mourning, plants withering and animals dying that we find in Joel 1 is preceded by the mention of these in Genesis 3 and Deuteronomy 28. Joel is clearly dependent on these, not vice versa.14

Furthermore, the words of Romans 8 may not match Genesis 3:16–19 in the Septuagint, but the language of the passage clearly refers to Genesis 3. Collins’s objection that Romans 8 does not use the words of Genesis 3:16–19 nor the word curse also overlooks the fact that a concept or idea can be conveyed without using certain vocabulary.

Nevertheless, Collins believes the key term in verse 21 is “corruption” (decay). He states that the

creation is ‘in the bondage to decay,’ not because of changes in the way it works but because of the ‘decay’ of mankind, and in response to man’s ‘decay’ God brings decay to the earth to chastise man.15

Yet this overlooks the fact that there is a direct connection between the liberation of creation and the liberation of the “sons of God.” This, however, would be lost if the creation has always been in a state of corruption and futility because it would be unconnected to the fallen state of man. Paul describes the glory that awaits the sons of God in terms of freedom, and this freedom is associated with the state of glory to which the sons of God are destined. The creation itself will be set free from the bondage to corruption and into the glory of the sons of God.

Moreover, the language of the deliverance16 of creation from its bondage of corruption is inconsistent with evolutionary thinking and the belief in an old earth. Given that theistic evolutionists and old-earth creationists believe that death and suffering have always been a part of creation (even before they believe man was on the earth), they must be able to explain what creation needs to be delivered from and what it will be restored to. Will it be restored to a state of continuing death and suffering?

Paul makes it clear that there is going to be a work done in creation itself and not just human beings. Paul’s point in verse 22 is that the creation, which again is non-human, is groaning and suffering, not from natural disasters and suffering before the Fall, and not just because it has sinful mankind in it (contra Collins), but from the Fall of Adam in Genesis 3, which the context in Romans 8:18–22 makes clear.

It is important to remember that Jesus came to redeem and reconcile not only a fallen humanity but also a fallen creation that awaits its restoration (Colossians 1:20). The Fall and its consequences as well as Christ’s redemption and reconciliation of all things are respectively the foundation and blessed hope of the gospel message and the coming restoration in the Consummation.

Conclusion

Christians need to realize that the idea of evolution and millions of years is not just a side issue or just about how people understand Genesis 1–3, but it has consequences for how we read the rest of Scripture. Sadly, today, more and more evangelical Christian scholars are having to redefine passages of Scripture that so clearly refer to Genesis 1–3 because they have applied the idea of evolution and millions of years into their thinking.

Footnotes

  1. Richard Bauckham, Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd: London, 2010), 97. Bauckham is influenced here by the work of theistic evolutionist Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution and the Problem of Evil (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008), 28–29.
  2. For the biblical answer to why there was no animal death before the Fall see Terry Mortenson, “The Fall and the Problem of Millions of Years of Natural Evil,” Answers in Depth 7 (July 28, 2012), https://answersingenesis.org/theory-of-evolution/millions-of-years/the-fall-and-the-problem-of-millions-of-years-of-natural-evil/.
  3. It is not uncommon for theologians to appeal to modern evolutionary ideas as scientific facts that should be accepted, failing to recognize that these conclusions are not scientific data, but interpretations of the data that generally have unbiblical and even anti-God presuppositions. See Terry Mortenson, “Systematic Theology Texts and the Age of the Earth,” Answers Research Journal 2, December 16, 2009, https://answersingenesis.org/age-of-the-earth/systematic-theology-texts-and-the-age-of-the-earth/.
  4. Bauckham, Bible and Ecology, 97.
  5. C. John Collins, Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company, 2006), 183–184.
  6. Many scholars recognize that it is the non-human creation that is being referred to in Romans 8:19. See James Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 38A. Romans 1–8 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1988), 469; and Douglas Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1996), 514.
  7. Moo, Romans, 515.
  8. Ibid., 516.
  9. Thomas Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academics, 1998), 436.
  10. Dunn, Romans 1–8, 470.
  11. Idolatry is the result of a fallen creation.
  12. See Lee Anderson Jr., “Thoughts on the Goodness of Creation: In What Sense was Creation ‘Perfect’?,” Answers Research Journal 6, November 13, 2013, https://answersingenesis.org/physics/thoughts-on-the-goodness-of-creation-in-what-sense-was-creation-perfect/.
  13. See Dunn, Romans 1–8, 469–470; and Moo, Romans, 514–516; and Schreiner, Romans, 436; and Colin Kruse, Paul’s Letter to The Romans: The Pillar New Testament Commentary (W. B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2012), 347.
  14. I am grateful for Dr. Terry Mortenson’s observations here.
  15. Collins, Genesis 1–4, 184.
  16. Paul uses the same Greek word (ἐλευθερόω eleuthero) that he used in Romans 8:2 that speaks of the Christian being “set free” from sin and death (see also Romans 6:18, 22).

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