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Did Death Occur on Earth Prior to Man's Sin?
by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.
Through the years, various theories have been set forth which suggest that prior to the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, death and decay nevertheless had been widespread on the Earth amidst a “previous creation” that included pre-Adamic people. In his book, Earth’s Earliest Ages, George H. Pember suggested that the fossil record was clear and compelling evidence of death, disease, ferocity, and even sin—all of which had occurred before Adam and Eve existed. He wrote:
Since, then, the fossil remains are those of creatures anterior to Adam, and yet show evident token of disease, death, and mutual destruction, they must have belonged to another world, and have a sin-stained history of their own (1876, p. 35).
In making such a statement, however, Pember has leveled a serious charge against the Word of God—a charge that deserves intense scrutiny.
The idea that the death of humankind occurred prior to Adam’s sin contradicts New Testament teaching that indicates the death of humankind entered this world as a result of Adam’s sin (1 Corinthians 15:21; Romans 8:20-22; Romans 5:12). The apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 15:45 that Adam was “the first man.” Yet long before Adam—if Pember is correct—there existed a pre-Adamic race of men and women with “a sin-stained history of their own.” But how could Paul, by inspiration of God, have written that Adam was the first man if, in fact, men had lived, sinned, and died before him? The apostle Paul and George Pember cannot both be correct.
A word of caution is in order here, however. Allow me to explain. As certain creationists have opposed both organic evolution and its religiously based cousins, theistic evolution and progressive creation, they have pointed out (correctly) that evolution not only is by definition a purely natural process, but also one that works via natural selection and survival of the fittest in a world where (to quote the famous British poet Lord Tennyson) “nature is red in tooth and claw.” Those responsible for defining and defending the General Theory of Evolution have admitted as much. Harvard University’s late, eminent evolutionist, George Gaylord Simpson, wrote: “Evolution is a fully natural process, inherent in the physical properties of the universe, by which life arose in the first place, and by which all living things, past or present, have since developed, divergently and progressively” (1960, 131:969, emp. added). The renowned evolutionary philosopher of science, David Hull, observed that the evolutionary process is “rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain and horror” (1991, 352:486).
Creationists have noted (again, correctly) that God’s creative acts were not those of happenstance, contingency, and incredible waste. Rather, they were acts of deliberate, purposeful, intelligent design on the part of an omnipotent Creator. But in their attempts to oppose evolution and to make the case for the biblical account of origins, some creationists (who no doubt are well intentioned) have misinterpreted, and thus misapplied, the teachings of two important New Testament passages. The first of those passages is Romans 5:12-14.
Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned: for until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a figure of him that was to come.
The second passage is 1 Corinthians 15:20-22:
But now hath Christ been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them that are asleep. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
The portions of these two verses (shown in bold type) that are emphasized by certain creationists stress the fact that death only entered the world because of man. The argument set forth, therefore, is as follows. Evolution suggests that there were billions of years of “happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain, and horror” (to use Dr. Hull’s exact words). Contrariwise, the Bible states quite specifically that death did not exist until Adam and Eve sinned against God. The evolutionary scenario, therefore, is apodictically impossible—regardless of whether the evolution being advocated is that found in atheistic (organic) evolution, theistic evolution, or progressive creation. Each requires vast eons of time, during which, so we are told, nature was viciously and uncaringly culling out evolutionary dead-ends and witnessing extinctions that resulted from the deaths of untold thousands of species of plants, animals, and “hominoids.” In addressing this point, creationist Henry M. Morris wrote:
Perhaps the most serious problem is theological. If we accept the geological ages at all, in effect we are saying that God used the methods and processes which exist in the present world to finally bring into the world the goal and culmination of His creative activity—man. This means, therefore, that at least a billion years of struggle, suffering, disorder, disease, storm, convulsions of all kinds, and, above all, death troubled the world before man ever entered the world and before any sin appeared in the world. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches quite emphatically that there was no suffering or death in the world until after sin came in. Romans 5:12 declares, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
Death by sin—there was no death in the world until sin was introduced. The present groaning, struggling creation of which we read in Romans dates Biblically from the time of the great curse God put on creation because of Adam’s sin. So the whole creation now is under the bondage of corruption and decay and death because of man’s sin. But if the concept of the geological ages is correct, there were geological ages and over a billion years of death in the world before any sin entered the world. Therefore, God must have used the principle of decay, suffering, and disorder. This is not the God revealed in the Bible—a merciful God, a gracious God, a God of order and power, not a God of confusion, random change and chance (1973, 3:72-73, emp. added).
In his book, Man: Ape or Image—The Christian’s Dilemma, Rendle-Short wrote:
Sin entered the world through one man, Adam. Death also entered the world through Adam. There had been no sin or death previously.... It may even be argued that the plants did not die before Adam. Eating the fruit or foliage of plants does not kill them.... [T]he death of a plant is of a different order from death of an animal.... [P]lants are on a par with the basic earth, of lesser worth than animals.... [P]lants are not “living” and so cannot die as an animal does. That they were eaten by animals and man before the Fall is quite consistent with the statement that there was no death.... Death and dying are always against nature, the God-given order of things. Especially would this have been so before the Fall, at a time when God declared everything to be ”very good” (1984, pp. 139,148,149, first emp. added, last emp. in orig.).
Another well-known creationist, Ken Ham, devoted a section of his 1987 book, The Lie: Evolution, to “No Death Before Adam’s Fall.” He wrote:
The Bible clearly teaches that death, particularly the physical and spiritual death of man, entered the world only after the first man Adam sinned.... But what about the animals? Was death a part of the created animal world? There are a number of reasons why I believe animal death as well as human death did not occur before the Fall.... Before sin came into the world, death wasn’t even a question—God had total control of the creation and sustained it 100 percent. There was no corruption or decay. Hence, death wasn’t even a possibility.... Death and bloodshed came into the world as a judgment from God for man’s rebellion. But at the same time death was the very means by which man was redeemed. So bloodshed could not have existed before man’s fall. There was no bloodshed before Adam sinned: everything was perfect and death was not a part of animal existence (pp. 137-138,139, emp. added).
Thirteen years later, in his book, Did Adam Have a Bellybutton?, Mr. Ham repeated the same sentiments (2000, pp. 16-17,24,88-89,91,149).
Are the conclusions of these creationist authors—that there was absolutely no death of any kind prior to Adam and Eve’s sin—correct? And even more important, are they scriptural? The answers are “No” and “No.” To say that there was no human death prior to the Fall of man is to make a perfectly biblical statement. The passages in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 make that crystal clear. However, using those same scriptures to suggest that not even plants or animals could die ignores the specific context of each of the passages and is a serious abuse of the texts under consideration.
Paul’s presentation in Romans 5:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 had nothing whatsoever to do with the death of either plants or animals. Rather, an examination of the passages reveals that, in the context, he was discussing only the death of humans—which resulted from the tragic events that occurred in the Garden of Eden. Notice his specific phraseology, not only in Romans chapter 5, but even continuing into chapter 6. The inspired apostle spoke of: (a) “if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many” (5:15); (b) “much more shall they that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, even Jesus Christ” (5:17); (c) “as through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men” (5:18); (d) “as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous” (5: 19); (e) “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid” (6:1-2); (f) “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey the lusts thereof” (6:12); and (g) “I speak after the manner of men;... ye were servants of sin,...but now being made free from sin and become servants to God” (6:19-20,22).
Notice the terms (in bold type) that Paul used in his discussion of the fact of, punishment for, and salvation from sin. He spoke of “the many,” “they,” “all men,” mankind’s “mortal body,” and “after the manner of men.” Who, exactly, is represented by such terms? Surely, words and phrases such as these cannot have reference to plants and animals, but must instead refer solely to human beings. Furthermore, neither plants nor animals can sin; only humans are capable of committing such a travesty by revolting against their Maker. Only humans are recipients of the “gift by the grace of...Jesus Christ” (5:15). Only of humans may it be said that “the many shall be made righteous” (5:19).
Sin and death came on man by man (notice especially Paul’s comment in Romans 5:12 that “death passed unto all men“). Anthropologist Arthur C. Custance correctly observed: “[I]t seems clearly intended by the record in Genesis that death was in no sense inevitable for Adam” (1976, pp 145-146, emp. added). But, why was it not inevitable? The simple fact is that the suspension of man’s demise was provided by his continually having access to the tree of life that stood in the midst of the Garden (Genesis 2:9; 3:22). However, as Custance went on to remark: “Adam surrendered his potential immortality...” (p. 146). Thus Paul was constrained to say: “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12). Yet it must not be overlooked that the fateful promise of imminent death that resulted from having violated God’s law was made to Adam and Eve, not to the rest of the creation (Genesis 2:17). Custance therefore lamented: “[I]n the very day that he ate, that day the process of dying began. Thenceforth it was merely a question of time” (p. 150)—which explains why we read in Genesis 5:5 that “all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.”
When, then, did death and decay begin to occur in the natural (i.e., non-human) world? In an article titled “Was There Death Before Adam?,” Trevor Major addressed this point.
This is difficult to answer from Scripture because its special concern is for the fate of man—the only being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Perhaps plants and animals began to die from the moment of their creation. There is every suggestion that grass, fruit trees, birds, sea creatures, cattle, insects, and other organisms functioned quite normally even in the creation week. In this period they began to grow and to reproduce, so why could they not also begin to die and decay, as is the fate of all living things? (1990, 2:2).
In his book, God’s Time Records in Ancient Sediments, Dan Wonderly agreed when he suggested:
We of course agree that both spiritual and physical death in the human race originated with the tragic event of Adam’s sin. But the beginning of death in the animal and plant kingdoms is simply not mentioned in any of the Scripture passages having to do with man’s sin; nor is the time of the beginning of such death given in any other place in the Bible....Man was given the privilege of eating the fruits of the garden, and we certainly must assume that the “beasts of the field” and the “fowls” likewise supplied themselves with food from the garden. Thus we are led to the conclusion that the supply of the biological needs of animals and of man was basically the same in the Garden of Eden before the fall of man as it is today (1977, pp. 236,237). [NOTE: While I wholeheartedly agree with Wonderly’s conclusion that plant and animal death occurred prior to the Fall, I strongly disagree with the position he takes in his book that the Earth itself is ancient, with an age measured in billions of years rather than thousands (see Thompson, 1999).]
Some might object, however, that Genesis 1:31 records that “God saw everything He had made, and, behold it was very good.” As Rendle-Short opined: “Death and dying are always against nature, the God-given order of things. Especially would this have been so before the Fall, at a time when God declared everything to be “very good” (1984, p. 149, emp. in orig.). The question then becomes: “How could something be ‘very good’ if there was death and decay in the natural world?” This seeming problem is solved quite easily, however, if we recognize that, at times, what we prefer to label as “good” is not necessarily what God considers good. [Recall God’s statement via the prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).] As Clifford Wilson put it: “If it were not for the principle in nature of life continuing through death, all life would soon be extinct.... Sometimes we must reassess our ideas on the basis of newly discovered facts. Is it ‘good’ to kill a mosquito, a spider, a snake?.... Remember, too, the Lord said to Peter, ‘Rise, Peter, kill and eat’ (Acts 10:13)” [1975, p. 34, emp. in orig.]. Wonderly went on to observe:
Actually, we should not be surprised that the regular death of even complex organisms was included in the “way of life” before the fall of man. God created the whole animal kingdom, and much of the plant kingdom, with dependence upon the intake of food for the production of energy; and that food is always organic material produced by cells. In nearly all cases these cells which provide food for man and other organisms must die, either before being eaten or soon afterwards, as they are digested. Even most of the fungi and bacteria are dependent upon cellular organisms which have died, to provide their food for energy and growth. In fact, some kinds of fungi and bacteria are equipped with mechanisms to produce strong enzymes which digest the living cells of plants and animals which are their food. Thus if death were not a part of the original world of living organisms, then the entire basis of their lives would have had to be different from any principle known on the earth today. But, as we have seen, such a difference is not in keeping with the Genesis account of life in the Garden of Eden (1977, p. 237, emp. in orig.).
If God has established something as the “natural order of things,” then: (a) by definition it qualifies as “good”? and (b) who are we to suggest otherwise? Furthermore, if we ask, “How could something be good if it involves death and decay?” this begs the question by assuming that the normal operation of the natural world, including death and decay, is not “good.”
Consider also the indefensible position in which a person finds himself when he asserts that there was absolutely no death of any kind prior to the Fall. As Major concluded:
[T]o insist that neither death nor decay existed in the non-human world before the sin of man, is to ask for special pleading. What of bacteria, adult butterflies, and other creatures that measure their longevity in terms of hours or days? What of the luckless ant that is trodden on by an elephant, or the fly which wanders into a spider’s web? These creatures lived in a world governed by natural laws instituted by God during His creation. It is unnecessary to propose that God acted during this time like a machine, constantly intervening at every level to ensure the eternal preservation of all creatures until that terrible day when sin came into the world (1990, 2:2).
Each of us should remember the adage that “a text removed from its context becomes little more than a pretext.” Especially is this true when Scripture is involved. Paul’s statements in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 about sin having entered the human race deal with exactly that in their original context—the entrance of sin among humans. While God’s statement to Adam that “cursed is the ground for thy sake” (Genesis 3:17) informs us that man’s sin ushered in certain drastic disadvantages for the animal and plant kingdoms, the statement, in and of itself, neither says nor implies that simultaneously this was the beginning of death among nature’s non-human inhabitants. Wonderly properly summarized the problem associated with taking the position that there was no death prior to Adam and Eve’s sin.
The fact of the eating of plant materials in the Garden of Eden is readily admitted by all. Since plants are living organisms, with living cells similar to those of animals, there is no question but that the terms “life” and “death” are appropriate in speaking of them. Thus when man, the beasts, and the birds ate and digested plant materials, they were bringing about the death of living organisms. This fact is intensified when we realize that seeds contain young, living embryos; so when Adam and Eve ate nuts and seeds they were killing the young embryos within those seeds.... It is not possible for us as finite human beings to say that death in the animal world was not in the original, good plan of God, but that death in the plant world was in his plan. Who are we to say that plants and animals are less “alive” than animals? Plants can carry out some activities which animals cannot. Their cells are highly complex; and many plants produce motile reproductive cells—and even some motile non-reproductive cells—which swim about by means of flagella just as actively flagellated protozoans of the animal world.
Also, the death of small animals must have been a regular occurrence in the Garden of Eden. It is difficult to conceive of the hoofed mammals roaming the fields day after day without crushing beetles and worms with their hoofs. And how could any sheep or cow pluck grass from the earth without eating the microscopic sized insects and mites which live on the blades and upper roots of the plants? Beyond this, how could such animals drink large quantities of water from streams and pools without ingesting many tiny aquatic arthropod animals? It should also be remembered that such tiny insects and mites are not insignificant specks, but that there is only one phylum of animals which is more complex than they, namely, the phylum which contains the vertebrates. Each such tiny insect is equipped with a complex nervous system, well-developed eyes, an elaborate respiratory system, a chemically efficient excretory system, etc....
The same wisdom of God which led Him to ordain that plant life would serve as food for certain organisms could certainly have ordained that certain animals would also serve as food. For example, when God created the kinds of whales which live on microscopic organisms (as the blue whale), He surely foresaw that as they dashed through the water scooping up planktonic organisms their diet would include many kinds of tiny crustaceans which are very complex animals. Crustaceans belong to the same phylum as insects and have a degree of organization very similar to that of insects. Even if we might say that these whales may have originally eaten seaweed, we would have to remember that a vast number of these tiny crustaceans are found in among and clinging to the branches of the seaweed (1977, pp. 236-237,238, emp. in orig.).
Wilson was correct when he stated simply but emphatically: “Only for man was death the direct result of his fall and expulsion from the Garden of Eden” (1975, p. 33).
But some will ask: “What about obviously carnivorous animals? Were they carnivorous from the beginning, or did they become carnivorous after the sin and subsequent curse of man?” There can be no doubt that all animals were created by God initially to be herbivorous. Early in the book of Genesis we read:
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food: and to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the heavens, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food.” And it was so (1:29-30, emp. added).
Later, however, after the Fall of man, there are indicators that not only were animals killed by man—at first for clothing (Genesis 3:21) and later for sacrifice (Genesis 4:4)—but that the animals themselves had become carnivorous. When God surveyed the situation immediately prior to the Great Flood, the text indicates that “God saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, ‘The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence’ ” (Genesis 6:12-13, emp. added). Some conservative Bible scholars have suggested the commentary that “all flesh had corrupted their way” so that the Earth was “filled with violence” may well signify that animals already had become carnivorous by the time God sent the Flood. [Of course, after the Flood God gave humans permission to eat meat as well (Genesis 9:3), but noted that “the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the heavens” (9:2), indicating a permanent change in man’s relationship to the Earth’s animals.]
The issue also has been raised about how animals that, at present, seem well equipped only for a carnivorous existence might have survived in the pre-Flood world at a time when they were forced to exist solely as vegetarians (a concept plainly taught in Genesis 1:29-30). Wonderly has responded to such an inquiry as follows:
There is, however, one problem which seems to be particularly bothersome to us, concerning the existence of violence and death in the animal world. This is the pattern of behavior and way of life of the carnivorous mammals. The seemingly ruthless capturing of other mammals, and even of human beings by carnivores appears to be—and perhaps is—contrary to what we believe concerning God’s original creation. So we are quite willing to say that the carnivorous mammals may have begun their ruthless hunting of other animals only after the fall of man.... If the specialized flesh-tearing teeth of the carnivores make us wonder if they did not possess an instinct for ruthless hunting as soon as they were created, we should consider the possibility that in earlier times their diet was restricted to invertebrate animals (insects and sea-shore animals), and to fruits and other plant materials which their teeth could handle. After all, many carnivores even now eat large amounts of such foods. For example, cats eat grasshoppers; bears often eat fruit and honey; and raccoons eat corn, nuts, and other fruits, and even leaves and grasses (1977, 239-240, parenthetical item in orig.).
Rendle-Short wrote in agreement:
I readily agree it is difficult to see how certain creatures could ever have been solely vegetarian. Their whole anatomy and mode of life now seems adapted for catching prey. My reply must be, firstly, as biologists study the problem it becomes obvious that many so-called carnivores can easily live on a purely vegetarian diet—the domestic dog or cat for example. Teeth apparently designed to tear prey can also be used to tear tough vegetable fibre (1984, p. 147).
Furthermore, at times the “specialized” traits and characteristics that we think, at first glance, make animals better adapted to a certain activity, climate, or habitat turn out not to inure such an advantage after all. Joseph Dillow acknowledged this problem in discussing the giant, woolly mammoths whose frozen remains have been found in the Arctic regions.
The mammoth was endowed with a fur coat and a wooly overcoat 25 cm. long. This is generally taken as proof that the mammoth was well adapted to cold. However, the presence of fur or hair is not necessarily an indication of protection against cold. Consider, for example, the hairy mountain Malaysian elephant that inhabits a tropical region today. The Sumatran elephant from Burma, R. lasiotis, has a thick hair covering on its belly and legs, a hairy tail, and bristles at the end of its ears. In fact, thick fur means nothing, as many animals of the equatorial jungles, such as tigers, have thick fur (1981, p. 338).
Whereas one would think that a tiger’s thick fur would equip it to live in an area of the world where the average temperature is low, quite the opposite is the case. Although in possession of an impressive, thick fur coat, it nevertheless lives quite comfortably in the tropical to subtropical regions of the Middle East. Other examples could be cited at length. For generations, we were taught that Arctic animals enjoyed protection from the frigid temperatures and waters of their icy environments as a result of thick, subcutaneous layers of fat that endowed them with remarkable survival skills. But, once again, what at first glance appeared to be the case turned out not to actually be the case. In a scholarly treatise on the body insulation of a variety of Arctic mammals and birds, Scholander and co-authors wrote:
Except for a thermally insignificant localized fat pad on the rump of the reindeer and caribou, none of the mammals (except the seals) has any significant layer of subcutaneous fat or blubber. Subcutaneous fat is a heavy and poor insulator compared to fur and does not seem to play any role at all in the insulation of terrestrial arctic animals (1950, p. 226, parenthetical item in orig.; see also Krause, 1978, p. 92).
Thus, even though certain animals possess traits (e.g., razor-sharp teeth and powerful claws) that appear to be best suited for carnivorous pursuits, the exact opposite may well be the case. The characteristics that we thought equipped them for one activity actually may have equipped them for something quite different.
Last, but certainly not least, what about Paul’s statement in Romans 8:20-22: “For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (emp. added). Some have suggested that this particular passage from the pen of the apostle teaches that no creatures died before the Fall of Adam and Eve. But is that what the passage is saying? No, it is not.
There are two important areas of this passage that must be explored. First, we must examine the context within which the apostle placed his comments. Second, we must study to ascertain the meaning of the phrase “the whole creation.” The context of the passage is this. Paul affirms that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward” (8:18). In verses 19-23, he then continues by acknowledging that while the creation once was subjected to vanity, it now is waiting for “the revealing of the sons of God,” at which time that creation “shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God” (8:21). The apostle concluded by reminding Christians, who possess the “first-fruits of the Spirit,...groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (8:23).
While the passage certainly is brimming with eternal comfort, it also contains some admittedly difficult material, not the least of which is Paul’s reference to the fact that “the whole creation” anxiously awaits deliverance from the “bondage of corruption.” What does he mean by his phrase, “the whole creation”? Various writers have documented the reasons why the phrase “the whole creation” cannot apply to such things as, for example, unredeemed humanity or some kind of alleged millennial material/physical realm (see Jackson, 1990, 26:25). But what, then, does Paul mean by his use of this intriguing phrase? In investigating this matter, Trevor Major responded as follows:
What does Paul mean by “creation?” This word is translated from the Greek noun ktisis—a term meaning the act of creation, or the product of that creative act. For example, Jesus referred to the act when He used the phrase “from the beginning of the creation” (Mark 10:6; 13:19), and Paul referred to the product when he wrote that the Gentiles “served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). However, the product of creation does not always encompass every single part of the creation, whether human, plant, animal, or non-living matter. In Mark 16:15, Jesus instructed His disciples to “preach the gospel to the whole creation.” No one would suggest that Jesus wanted the Gospel taken to human and non-human inhabitants of the world alike. Rather, “the whole creation” in Mark is equivalent to Matthew’s “all the nations” (28:19), and refers to all people everywhere in the world. Hence, could not “the whole creation” in Romans 8:22 apply solely to man?
Further, note the way in which the word “creation” is used in the verses preceding Romans 8:22. Verse 19 states that the creation waits “for the revealing of the sons of God,” and verse 21 says that the creation “itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.” On the one hand, the creation has suffered at the whims of men. His selfishness and greed have despoiled the Earth, and his unrepentant sin brought a destructive flood on the land and its creatures. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine how Christians would receive any comfort knowing that plants and animals would be delivered from their “bondage” into the same “liberty of glory of the children of God.” Nonetheless, it seems more consistent to equate this “whole creation” with intelligent beings because, as Peter writes in his second epistle, the physical creation must itself look forward to obliteration by fervent heat and with great noise (3:10). The world of plants, animals, and inanimate matter is not included in the plan of redemption. Only in a metaphorical sense can it look forward to the deliverance of the children of God (1990, 2:1).
It thus seems that Romans 8:19ff. is referring not to the inanimate creation or merely to members of the animal and/or plant kingdoms, but rather to intelligent beings who were suffering for their faith and who, as children of God, could look forward to their resurrection and glorification. Paul’s discussion of “the creation” in this passage and in others of a similar import (e.g., Romans 1:20-21), offers evidence aplenty of the fact that God’s concern over His handiwork never wanes. The psalmist recorded His testimony to that effect when he wrote:
Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify unto thee: I am God, even thy God.... Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are mine...the world is mine, and the fulness thereof (Psalm 50:7-12).
Perhaps it was such heart-rending passages as Psalm 50 and Romans 8 that caused British theologian D. Martin Lloyd-Jones to write:
Many people seem to think that the sole theme of the Bible is man’s personal relationship with God.... This is a central theme...but it is not the only theme.... Ultimately the main message of the Bible concerns the condition of the world and its final destiny; you and I as individuals are part of a larger whole. That is why the Bible starts with the creation of the world, rather than that of man (1953, p. 5, emp. in orig.).
An in-depth study of God’s Word, and of God’s world, makes for a terribly fascinating human enterprise. As we study, however, we must make sure never to impose our wants and wishes upon the text, but rather to let the text speak to us instead. It is admirable that certain Bible believers are desirous of defending the biblical account of creation and opposing the concept of organic evolution and its theistic cousins. But to suggest that Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 teach that nothing died prior to the Fall of man weakens the creationists’ case and inflicts serious damage on the actual meaning of these pristine biblical passages. The biblical account of creation does need to be defended. And the theory of evolution does need to be opposed. But not via a misinterpretation and misapplication of God’s Word. Two wrongs do not make a right.
God has placed the defense of His Word into the hands of men and women who have been instructed to teach it so that all who hear it might have the opportunity to obey it and be saved. Paul commented on this when he wrote: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7). The thrust of the apostle’s statement was that the responsibility of taking the Word of God to a lost and dying world ultimately has been given to mortal men. But the power is not in the men; rather, it is in the message! This, no doubt, accounts for the instructions Paul sent to Timothy in his second epistle when he urged the young evangelist to “give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, emp. added).
Considering the fact that we, as God’s “earthen vessels,” have been made the instruments through which God offers to a lost and dying world reconciliation through His Son (John 3:16), the apostle’s admonition is well taken. Surely it behooves us to “handle aright” so precious a commodity as the Word of God. The salvation of our own souls, and the souls of those we instruct, depends on the accuracy of the message.