Did all material creation become cursed when Adam and Eve sinned?

Some believers claim that the entire material creation is fallen and that meat eating, death and cruelty among the animals are not natural conditions but are due to the fall of Adam and Eve, In other words, some curse was placed on the material creation making it perverse because of their disobedience. We can not read this anywhere. Is it implied? I believe we can safely say this is not the case. Let us look at verses nevertheless claimed to say so. In Genesis, they find two important verses, 1:31 and 3:17.

Genesis 1:31 Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

God said it was very good, so some say it must mean peace, harmony and no meat eating. There is no evidence in this, it is an inference. If we read much idealism into “very good”, we can say it was not better than the fall could happen later. They had not eaten of the symbolic tree of life or tree of knowledge and after the fall, they were prevented to eat from the tree of life (Genesis 3:22). They were mortal, innocent and ignorant but surely well functioning biologically, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). They lived in harmony with God until their disobedience. They were like the generations to come “living by the law” (Romans 10:5).

Genesis 3:17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. 18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. 19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”

We are told this means that the entire material creation is fallen/cursed. However, the verses are clearly speaking of Adam’s hard life as a farmer following the loss of their harmonious life with God. Reading a bit further in Genesis, we learn that it would be man that would become a curse to the rest of material creation:

Genesis 9:2 And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand.

In recent history this has become even more true with pollution and destruction of much creation. Some also appeal to this New Testament passage as evidence of a cursed material creation:

Romans 8:18 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. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

There is basically two ways to understand “the creation”, and different commentators favor them. The most obvious to me is that “the creation” indeed is all material creation (we must again exclude the angels). This must include some figurative language as (most other) animals can not reason, experience the “aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers” (1 Peter 1:18) and their blessing would not be the experience of heaven but a lifting of the Genesis 9:2 curse. This is also in line with ancient thinking where animals sympathised with the good humans. The other interpretation is that it is mankind only or the gentiles. Either way, the phrase “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly” refutes the Augustinian/YEC/Fundamentalist/Evangelical “original sin” misanthropic teaching. The verse confirms that Adam and Eve and their descendants did not wish for the separation from God. God did it, but “in hope”. The hope was Christ (Genesis 3:15, Colossians 1:20). Man is the ruler of the material creation (Genesis 1:26) and that way man/Adam is the federal head representing and acting on behalf of all material creation (Romans 5:14). Christ is the second Adam as well as the Lord of all. Finally, there is a strong universalist teaching here, emphasising the blessing/salvation of all with the saints as the firstfruits. There is no support for a literal curse of all material creation.

The account of Adam and Eve

I think the difficulty in grasping the simplicity of the Bible’s origins debate is rooting in sincere believers not being taught to appreciate symbolism. The YECs may believe they are plainly reading but they are far from doing that. Perhaps there is also a special American Evangelical problem, because the Bible in some sense is considered an American book rather than Ancient Oriental book.

The general Evangelical understanding of the serpent is symptomatic of this. Accepting that the account speaks of a “beast of the field“ (Genesis 3:1) seems very difficult for many people. The serpent even talks! I suggest when something literal is said to act in a way that cannot be literal, then we are dealing with symbolism. The historical Bible accounts are not telling us to bend the reality we can see with our eyes. We have angels appearing as men, and miracles are performed as signs, being signs because they go against the perceived reality we can see with our eyes. The beggar in the “bosom of Abraham” (Luke 16:22) is another example of symbolism. It is not sound Bible interpretation to assume that when we die, we wake up in the old man Abraham’s lap. Abraham is one of the fathers of the believers according to the New Testament. God and Jesus Christ obviously are and Paul is also said to be so. The lap figure of speech is also used in connection with the Son’s oneness with the Father, the Son is in the Father’s bosom (John 1:18). The symbolism is overly obvious; we can easily imagine a child sitting in a loving father’s lap. Believers are Abraham’s – spiritual – children (Galatians 3:29). The “Lazarus in hell” account is soundly interpreted as an allegory concerning the rejection and hardening of a part of old Israel and the blessing of the new covenant people becoming heirs to the Abrahamic promise. This is a major New Testament theme.

Back to Genesis, there is no evidence that the Bible wishes us to believe there was once a garden with a literal talking serpent and magical fruit trees. On the contrary, reason tells us that it is symbolic. The book of Revelation also speaks of tree of life, bearing 12 fruits and leaves for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2). It is symbolic. Paul speaks of the serpent without saying it is something else (2 Corinthians 11:3). I am not leaving Revelation 12:9 out of the picture – there is a literal entity or more behind the figure, but first things come first. First, you consider what the symbolism is saying, and then you can speculate about the literal meaning.

Accepting this, we can safely conclude that the Adam and Eve account is symbolic, speaking of the first biblically revealed covenant between God and man (Genesis 2:16-17). The meaning of the symbolism of Adam made of dust God breathe life into and that Eve was made of the rib of Adam (Genesis 2:7, 22-23) should be obvious.

Job 34:14 If He should set His heart on it, If He should gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath, 15 All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust.

Genesis 18:27 Then Abraham answered and said, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord:

The death of Adam and Eve is safely interpreted as symbolic as the fall is their SPIRITUAL death. There is no other alternative unless you want to add that God did not carry out his sentence for their transgression (Genesis 2:17). God said the day you shall surely die, and the death sentence is further explained to both Adam and Eve and the serpent (Genesis 3:14-19). Spiritual death is fully revealed in the New Testament (John 5:25, Romans 6:6-7, Colossians 2:13, Ephesians 2:5, 1 Peter 3:18, 4:6).

Who were Adam and Eve? Whom were they symbolizing? Here is the great controversy. I suggest the early account has been twisted because Paul’s essential teaching on Adam is misunderstood. Plainly read, the man and woman in Genesis 1:26-27 is not identical to Adam and Eve. I suggest these people are intended to represent all people, quite possibly Adam and Eve included. It does not cause me any trouble if they are Adam and Eve, but it is to me not an obvious reading and major problem about the origins account is that people make it excessively difficult. Then we have the special and still symbolic account of Adam and Eve, whose genealogy in Genesis 5 is traced to Jesus in the New Testament’s origins accounts in Matthew 1 and Luke 1. Genealogy was of extreme importance to old Israel. Were they two literal people? Perhaps. Perhaps not. The important thing is that the origin of Israel is established. Notice that we go from the creation of the heavens and earth in chapter 1 to a very local account in the garden describing some riverheads (Genesis 2:10-14). With this plain reading, the origin of Cain’s wife as well as the people he feared after receiving the mark in Genesis 4 is no issue at all.

Who was the serpent symbolizing?

Revelation 12:9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

Doubtless the serpent here is the one from Eden, though there are other serpents mentioned in the Bible (Amos 9:3, Isaiah 27:1). Another symbolic character mentioned is the dragon:

Revelation 12:3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.

These symbols mean something. This is the Roman Empire and possibly also the Edomite priesthood / Pharisee power against God’s people. But they were not in the garden of Eden. To be lumped together, there must be a personal supernatural character or characters against God’s people. Traditionally Christianity’s solution to this is the fallen angel character. Anyone who has studied what the Bible actually says in the alleged proof texts of that particular character knows that the theory has great difficulties. It is – just like much in the origins accounts – not fully explained and it makes men speculate.

What is Paul saying about Adam? We find the essential teachings in 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45 and Romans 5. Adam was the first man and his disobedience brought death to all men just as Christ brings life to all men. The death spoken is spiritual as it is the opposite condition to be made alive in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22). This is the death Paul is concerned with and the death Christ saves from. The term “first man” is again spiritually discerned no difficulty. The Hebrews did not think in modern biological terms. We have the biblical example of “I will make him my firstborn..” (Psalm 89:27). Israel was the firstborn of God.

Exodus 4:22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn.

With wooden literalism, it makes no sense. But it makes sense to speak of Israel as God’s firstborn in special spiritual sense. It also makes sense to speak of Adam this way as Adam was the first man in biblically revealed covenant with God and whom the man Jesus Christ was traced back to. We have to remember that we gentiles were sort of gathered along on “cancellation”:

Acts 28:28 “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!”

Ephesians 2:11 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— 12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people (Luke 2:10b)

Parts of the world has just been celebrating the birth of Christ which took place more than 2,000 years ago. But the picture of Christ as Savior bringing justification to the world is in the churches often distorted with another image of Christ and his disciples bringing new laws and confusion about whether the old law of Moses is done away with or not. This is a category error. We read of the Law:

1 Timothy 1:8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.

There is no difference here to the traffic law. If you are capabable of breaking the speed limit, the traffic law is for you. From this perspective, we can understand why also Paul seems busy making laws to the congregations in his day. The good news is not an overnight change. As long as we are in this “body of death” (Romans 7:24) we are subject to laws. The Bible even outlines that very well known coming judgment of all men, yet another obstacle for man to understand the good news. Of this Paul says:

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

After this the chapter of law and non-reconciliation is finally closed:

1 Corinthians 15:24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.”But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

And then the light of the good news wills shine clearly for all.

John 5:18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.

John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

1 John 2:2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

Does evolution theory do damage to the Bible story?

In the old Christian understanding held by most prior to the age of scientific investigation, (“ancient science” in high cultures just wasn’t the same in purpose and means) Genesis 1 begins with the literal beginning of the known world. Probably it meant that to the ancient Israel too, but with ancient Israel in center and a great deal more appreciation of ANE and covenant symbolism.

With the modern scientific insight, the known world expanded. Before you know there are galaxies, you don’t look for them. Before you know the literal world couldn’t have been literally drowned, simple theology will easily lead you to conclude God did drown the world and so on.

Reading the early Genesis chapters with modern eyes, the symbolism, non-scientific nature and ethnocentrism stands out so clear. We are dealing with the introduction to what would become Israel and world and people outside the mysterious garden is included as implications in the early Genesis chapters. The modern expansion of the known world is irrelevant to the exegesis of the ancient text and its originally intended audience. Nevertheless the ancient records seem prepared for the modern evolution story. In the beginning God created….. God was before creation. Paul speaks of to him exclusively unknown times as before the eons/ages/time/world began in 1 Corinthians 2:7 and other places. We know a bit more but the mind boggling concept of the God that always was outdo any timeline in evolution and is as much a mystery thousands of years ago as today.

The problem of evil

Aside from the misanthropy of as example islam or stern calvinism, every worldview recognizes that evil is a problem and if a theistic one a theistic problem. In Christian context the problem is how can this omni- everything God be good and yet uphold the existence of evil? There is no rational explanation, at best we can believe we see small parts of a solution and must never claim to see more. But there is way to handle this difficult issue through faith. We can easily recognize – as believers – our very limited comprehension of God. Faith says God must have a reason, God’s reason and it must be good.

Post mortem salvation

In the Bible we don’t find many allusions to the beginning of all the creation of God. All this was indeed hidden in Christ, the beginning of the creation of God (Revelation 3:14). The ancient creation record is greatly ethnocentric, speaking of the world known to the forefathers of Israel, and centered on them (Genesis 1; 2:10-14; 5:1 etc.). We are told of the heathens, that they were left to themselves but not forgotten by God (Acts 17:26-30) yet as nations excluded from the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12). But with Christ there will come a time where every knee will bow and confess Christ is Lord, the remote Islands will be glad (Philippians 2:10, Psalm 97:1).

In the popular Christian understanding, Christ does offer grace to the world, but if someone dies without faith in Christ, they are forever lost, immortal in some underworld of pain and misery. There is no doubt that the great non-biblical assurance of this dark doctrine and the sophisticated and devious defenses of it have been used in the interest of unforgiveable oppression and abuse of power. Evil will find an excuse. This teaching is not found in the Bible, but we will briefly look at some verses believed to say so.

Quoting from Luke:

Luke 13:1 There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Now what is special about this situation? Not that people die but that they die in a disaster. So is Jesus saying if you don’t repent, you will die in a disaster? Yes. In AD 70, a disaster happened to Jerusalem. It was destroyed by the hands of the Romans. It is believed a million Jews died in the Roman war AD 66-70. Those who accepted Christ obeyed his words:

Matthew 24:15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

Now is the popular interpretation of Luke 13:1-5 even possible? Were saints not killed in horrible manners? Do we know if these victims spoken of were saved or not? No, but if the listeners did not repent, they would all die in a disaster. Taken in a general universal way, countless saints have perished in disasters.

Now are those perished done for if they did not die believing?

Matthew 10:6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Luke 15:6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’

There nothing in the terminology saying so. Tradition speaks of the lost in hell, but the not-saved are already lost in this life.

Briefly we may also look at:

Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,

People die and then come the judgment. There is no suggestion in the Bible that the judgment is a mock trial like the ones men have conducted through history. On the contrary:

Luke 8:17 For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.

But what about the lake of fire found in Revelation 19 and 20? Revelation is a highly symbolic book. What exactly the lake of fire means is difficult to say but it seems reasonable to see it as a kind of alternative situation to the death with Christ mentioned in Romans 6, also symbolic.

Romans 6:6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more.

That old man needs to die somehow and it is certainly the old man that goes into the lake of fire, not the new. Fire in a very positive way is used here:

Zephaniah 3:8 “Therefore wait for Me,” says the Lord, “Until the day I rise up for plunder; My determination is to gather the nations To My assembly of kingdoms, To pour on them My indignation, All My fierce anger; All the earth shall be devoured With the fire of My jealousy. 9 “For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, That they all may call on the name of the Lord, To serve Him with one accord.

This indeed would be a very happy end.

Now how can we as believers in the Bible know that the end scenario of Revelation is not the “real”/final end?

Revelation 21:24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.
Revelation 22:2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Revelation 22:14 Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. 15 But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
1 Corinthians 15:24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

There will be an end to reign, when it is no longer needed. There will an end to the healing mediator purpose. Notice in Revelation 21:24 of “those who are saved” is disputed, NKJV footnote says: “NU-Text and M-Text omit of those who are saved”.

Now you might ask what about the “forevers” in the Bible. Now those forever’s have to be taken a little carefully. Consider:

Exodus 12:24 And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever. (this speaks of Aaron and his sons)
1 Kings 12:7 And they spoke to him, saying, “If you will be a servant to these people today, and serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.”

The common New Testament translations don’t really contain such an obvious blur in translation, instead a certain creativity is used;

Romans 16:25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began.
Hebrews 9:26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Ephesians 2:7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

These are common examples that every respected source will accept. You are wellcome to tell me otherwise. The Greek word is aion, so often translated forever or eternal but here it speaks of the world or the ages. The common explanation is that the same word is used for eternal life. So these examples are exceptions but generally it does mean eternal, the explanation goes. I think a much better solution is that eternality was not a concept of the Hebrew Old Testament cultures as demonstrated well in the previous Old Testament verses.

All in all, there are solid Biblical reasons to hold to a larger hope.

The God of judgement versus the God of love

A much pointed out biblical disagreement is the cruelty of the Old Testament God, his covenant curses and his people opposed to the love of Christ and his Gospel. A host of quotations from the Old Testament and less from the New, mostly Revelation, can be presented to show cruelty. On the plus side, we should also note that the Old Testament does contain evidence of God portrayed in line with the majority descriptions in the New Testament. And let’s be clear we don’t believe in a evil God. We believe in a good God.

While the issue certainly is difficult, I believe there is a better explenation than the usual of turning men into monsters alienated from God which doesn’t include Augustine’s original sin demonizing and lowering mankind far beyond the biblical and reasonable. Marcion was an early heretic who reasoned that the God of the Old Testament had to be another being than the God revealed in the Old Testament. He rejected the Old Testament as a revelation of an evil lower god and removed all references to it in his version of the Bible containing a number of what we call New Testament scriptures. I suggest we recognise he was on to something while we reject his conclusion. Also I suggest we recognise that the Old Testament doesn’t have any relevation of God as a Trinity, except a small and speculative evidence like Genesis 1:26 and Isaiah 48:16. On the other hand, Paul again and again speaks of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit and John’s Gospel and the 1st letter of John goes into great detail about the Father and Son relationship. The revelation of God is considerably different. Acts 7:53 says Israel received “the law by the direction of angels”, Galatians 3:19 says it was “appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator” (Moses). Hosea 12:4 says Jacob struggled with the angel, although Genesis 32:28-31 says he struggled with God. I suggest that when the Old Testament speaks of God, it is very often an angel. I don’t believe the Angel (or angel, no capital letters in Hebrew) of the Lord is a codeword for God, rather God’s angels mostly represent God and rarely (in comparison) are spoken of as the distinct beings they also are.

So how does it help the issue that it is an angel of God saying “go utterly destroy them all”? I believe agency plays a big part in the Bible and God’s dealings with mankind. We can rule out that this world affairs are governed directly by the Almighty all-good being himself. There is indeed reign and authority still to be subjected (1 Corinthians 15:25). Evil could not exist if it was the case. God would walk in the garden of Eden so to speak (Genesis 3:8), not manifest himself through angels (means messenger, the man Jesus Christ is in this regard an angel Malachi 3:1). God is not at present “all in all” as 1 Corinthians 15:28 says God will be one day. But I think we can believe that the Almighty all-good being deals with creation through agencies with a strange / difficult plan and purpose as explained in my previous paper. It was this God, the man of Nazareth revealed and spoke of as his Father. Through faith, we can trust God knows and is in control.