Immortality is Still a Divine Gift (RJS)

Death is a big issue for many people when confronted by the evidence for an old earth and evolutionary creation. I’ve received a number of e-mails from people wrestling with this issue. Paul tells us that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin” and “for as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  Clearly death is an intruder into God’s good creation. In fact, could anything be more clear?

In a clip in From The Dust Terry Mortenson of Answers in Genesis makes the point directly when speaking to an audience at the Creation Museum:

(5:38) The conflict over the age of the earth is not a conflict over time, it is not that God somehow doesn’t like millions or billions, its what the evolutionists say happened in that time. you see it is a conflict over two histories of death. In the bible death is an enemy. It is a temporary part of history. It is an intrusion into history. And one day it will be removed. But in the evolutionary view as long as there’s been life, there’s been death, as long as there will be life, there will be death.

In a post last summer Immortality is a Divine Gift, I described why I think this view is wrong. Immortality was not an intrinsic part of God’s original creation. Immortality was and is a divine gift from God. This is not a position I take because of science, to reconcile science with Christianity, forcing the faith to yield to an external onslaught. It is a position I take because of scripture – and it is a position that many, including John Calvin, have taken throughout church history. Now we need to nuance this a bit – Calvin certainly thought that the earth was young, and he thought that Adam became sick and subject to decay because of his sin, and he thought that this was passed on to his descendants. But Calvin did not think all death was alien to the Garden, nor did he think Adam and Eve would have escaped disease and decay save by the gift of God, or that they would have lived in the Garden forever.

Is death an alien intrusion into history?

Was death a part of the first creation?

What role will death play in new creation?

From Calvin’s Commentary on Genesis ch3 v19:

‘Why God should pronounce, that he who was taken from the dust should return to it.’ For as soon as he had been raised to a dignity so great, that the glory of the Divine Image shone in him, the terrestrial origin of his body was almost obliterated. Now, however, after he had been despoiled of his divine and heavenly excellence, what remains but that by his very departure out of life, he should recognize himself to be earth? Hence it is that we dread death, because dissolution, which is contrary to nature, cannot naturally be desired. Truly the first man would have passed to a better life, had he remained upright; but there would have been no separation of the soul from the body, no corruption, no kind of destruction, and, in short, no violent change. (p. 97)

I don’t think a view should be accepted simply because it was presented by some respected church father. And I do not think Calvin was right in every conclusion he drew, concerning Genesis 3 or any other part of scripture. I don’t consider myself a Calvinist. But I do think it is profoundly significant that Calvin presented this view based on scripture and his understanding of scripture. Evolution and scientific evidence for the age of the earth played no role in his reasoning. The version of young earth creationism presented by Mortenson and so many others, is rooted in an understanding of life and death that has not been such a common view in church history.

According to John Calvin immortality was a divine gift. Adam was immortal because of the glory of the Divine Image that shone in him. Left to himself he was dust of the earth. Not only this – his life in the Garden was never intended to be ever-lasting. Adam would have passed to a better life … in the age to come. Our hope is also to pass to a better life in the age to come, the resurrection.

1QIsa_b, image from wikipedia

But what about the new creation? At the end of my post last August I promised to come back and consider the new creation. I suppose it is about time I did. New Creation is a topic of some confusion and controversy. It is a concept that seems to be used in different ways in different parts of scripture. Today I would like to look briefly at New Creation in Isaiah.

Isaiah is a book touching on themes of judgment, exile, redemption, and return from exile. Many passages have explicit and implicit messianic undertones. In Isaiah 11 we read (NIV):

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

and a few verses later (6-9):

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,

and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

This is an image of an eventual return from exile and communion with God as it was meant to be. This imagery is repeated in a more extensive passage on new creation found in Isaiah 65: 17-25 where this is what the Lord God says:

See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
They will not labor in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

There is an interesting feature in this view of the new heavens and new earth the Lord will create. Mankind is not immortal. There is birth and death, death of a sort anyway. The difference is that all will live out their years to a hundred or more. A man who lives to a hundred will be thought a mere child – but not accursed. This despite the fact that a hundred doesn’t come close to the ages of Genesis 1-11 (which may lead us to wonder how those at the time of Isaiah interpreted the ages given in the primeval history of Genesis).

They will bear children, but not children doomed to misfortune. They will build and plant and have descendants.

The new heavens and new earth of Isaiah 65 is not the ultimate consummation, or so it seems. But it is a return in a sense to the Garden, to the way things were meant to be when Adam and Eve were told to be fruitful and multiply.

John Calvin comments on Isaiah 65:20 in much the same vein as he does on Genesis 3. One of the most interesting features of Calvin’s commentaries are the views he argues against, and his reasons for holding his position. This gives a feel for the range of opinion on the various topics at play in the church of Calvin’s day. In this case he notes (p. 318-319):

Others suppose it to mean that there will no longer be any distinction of age; because, where life is eternal, no line is drawn between the child and the old man.

But I interpret the words of the Prophet in this manner, “Whether they are children or old men, they shall arrive at mature age so as to be always vigorous, like persons in the prime of life; and, in short, they shall always be healthful and robust;” for it is on account of our sins that we grow old and lose our strength.

And a little later:

… the citizens of the Church shall be long-lived, so that no one shall be taken out of the world till he has reached mature age and fully completed his course, he likewise adds that, even in old age, they shall be robust.

and later still:

To our sins, therefore, it ought to be imputed, that we are liable to diseases, pains, old age, and other inconveniences; for we do not permit Christ to possess us fully, and have not advanced so far in newness of life as to lay aside all that is old.

Apparently there was a line of thought in Calvin’s day that read this passage in terms of eternal life. But it wasn’t a universal position, and it wasn’t the position that Calvin took. He returns to the view he gave in Genesis 3 – that immortality is a divine gift, that it is only union with Christ that can preserve the natural man from the normal decay processes of a man of dust, and that in any case the citizens of the Church will eventually be taken out of this world.

As I said above, I don’t necessarily agree with Calvin. But the contrast of Calvin’s view of creation and the immortality of man and the view of the new earth in Isaiah 65:17-25 with the young earth view of natural biological processes in God’s good creation is striking.  And it is important to note that Calvin was not responding to scientific challenges to the story of Adam and the origin of life. He was reading and interpreting scripture.

This doesn’t answer all the questions concerning the role of death in evolutionary creation. And it doesn’t begin to address the issues of human inclinations toward sinful behavior. But it does appear that the biblical view of death isn’t as simple or as clear as Answers in Genesis and Terry Mortenson would have us believe.

How do you view new creation in Isaiah 65? What is Isaiah talking about?

What does this tell us about the nature of human mortality and immortality?

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  • EricG

    This seems responsive to only a small part of what the creationists are saying. They make 2 primary arguments: (1) evolution is inconsistent with Genesis because it says death preceded the Fall, and (2) evolution is a process that involves much pain, suffering and death, and therefore makes the theological problem of suffering much worse.

    When I read, for example, the SBC dialogue with Biologos, they make issue (2) a primary argument. And as I read the Biologos initial response, they promised a more detailed response to (2), but have not done so.

    The post says that answering issue 1 doesn’t answer all the questions, but I think it also doesn’t answer the primary theological question raised. I understand that the question of suffering itself is not really resolvable, but think evolution presents unique challenges to the problem of suffering that should be addressed. There is resistance to the idea that God used some a long, drawn out process that necessarily required so much pain, suffering and death to create, and that this was all part of the plan for humans too. (I petsonally hold a theistic evolution view wholeheartedly, but do think this issue needs to be addressed by TE folks).

  • RJS


    This post doesn’t address all of the issues. I really only want to do three things with the post.

    (1) Make the point that immortality is a divine gift not intrinsic in creation.
    (2) Make the point that this view is not taken simply to appease “science.”
    (3) Raise the issue of new creation in Isaiah 65 – which surprised me when I read it.

    The issue you give on suffering and a long drawn out process is a significant one. I’ve posted on it before, but it needs more thinking and writing. Another big issue I’ve been thinking over and intend to post on is the evolutionary development of selfish “sinful” traits. There are more as well.

    And we continue to pray for you.

  • EricG, Richard Beck has talked a little about the second point you raise, and I agree with his take, which is that no matter what view you take, you still have a theodicy problem. Either God chose to create the world in a way where suffering and death came “built-in,” so to speak, or he created a world in which suffering and death were possible and allowed, which is not much different. In the end, God still allows – and therefore can be said to have created – suffering and death. Young-earth creationism claims to be “better” on this score, but in fact it’s only obfuscation. Adam and Eve choose to “introduce” sin, suffering and death into the world, but Who put the tree in the garden? Who made the snake? Who made Satan himself? In the end, no matter what view you hold, you believe God made a world with suffering and death “built-in.” The only difference is how many layers you use to obscure that fact.

  • EricG

    Sorry RJS, I don’t mean to hijack your post, just wanted to point out that the way TEs seem to frame the question doesn’t seem to address the primary objection I hear. And Paul A, thank you — although I don’t see that as an answer: There seems to be a plausible difference between (1) God choosing to use the painful process of evolution to create, and baking death in from the get-go, and (2) allowing free choices by people to screw things up. There are theodicy questions either way, but I think they are harder with (1).

  • In the Garden, weren’t plants intended to die? Gen 1:29: “I have given you every plant yielding see that is on the face of the all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” Is that evidence that death existed before the Fall?

  • RJS

    Thank EricG, I don’t think your comment hijacks the post.

    I don’t think this post answers the primary object to evolution either (Scot’s post today gets at some of this) – but it does lead us to think about some specific arguments regarding death and the age of the earth.

  • Bev Mitchell

    This should be very helpful to many. And what a great theme – the new creation. And, according to Isaiah, Paul and Calvin, we don’t have to wait to get started 🙂

    On the more somber theme of death in the natural world, and keeping to your theme of making this discussion largely scriptural, God called creation good and he also said be fruitful and multiply. In a resource limited world, these two realities cannot coexist without death (recycling of resources). What does not die in this good yet sinful world is life itself, because it is continuously made possible by a loving Father/Creator.

  • EricG

    Thanks RJS. I don’t think that Scot’s post gets at the problem of suffering, though — he appears to briefly discuss the question of “undirected” evolution, and in the process briefly mentions problems like lower backs and wisdom teeth, but doesn’t address the real scope of the problem of suffering in TE, or, more importantly, what a TE response might be.
    Bev — I hear you, but (1) why death and suffering as the very process of creation? (2) why *this much* suffering? (3) why make the assumption of resource limitation at all, which apparently won’t exist in the eschaton? Those don’t appear necessary.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Hi Eric,

    Yes, it does appear that our Father/Creator could have made possible a universe without resource limitations – he did feed the five thousand!  But the reality we can observe shows overwhelming resource limitation, beginning with the availability of carbon and our confinement to the little crust of the third rock to which life clings. Is resource limitation God’s doing or Satan’s doing? When did it happen? Why did God permit it (assuming its not good) ?

    Let’s, for discussion’s sake, say that resource limitation is not good and part of the enemy’s rebellion to God’s will. From our limited perspective, resource limitation is simply a necessity, making recycling necessary. Lacking God’s perspective, we have no idea how he might make resources limitless, we only believe he could do so. We even can imagine he could do this in any number of ways – this is why our ‘how does God do it’ questions make no sense and can only be rhetorical, at best. Perhaps the recycling solution we can see and understand is the best solution to the permitted rebellion against God’s plan. In recycling, and in the way life self-organizes around it, we do see a major victory over chaos, dissolution and entropy. We could see this as the beginning of God’s victory over the rebellion he has permitted. Of course, the resurrection of Christ becomes the ultimate victory that will be finalized in the eschaton. We can even participate in this, as described in the NT and especially by Paul. As RJS so interestingly points our,  Isaiah may well be telling us what is possible, even now, because of the victory of Christ.

    We live in an amazing world made possible by a Father/God we cannot comprehend but whom we can apprehend.

  • The New Heavens and New Earth are OT messianic coming projections bathed in Hebrew poetic representation. They are not physical descriptions and should not be alluded to as such. I would highly recommend reading G. K. Beales Book “The Temple and the Church’s Mission” in which he deals significantly with the concepts found in Isa 11, 65 and 66. (By the way N. T. Wright highly recommends that book)

    It is commonly understood by scholars that Isa 11 is depicting through poetic metaphor using clean/domestic and unclean/wild animal motifs that depict the blending of the Jews and the Gentiles under the messianic umbrella that is forthcoming.

    The NT in places such as Heb 12:26-28 and Rev 21 both point to the understanding that the New Heavens and Earth (New Covenant) were soon to replace the Old Heavens and Earth (old covenant). Once we understand the Biblical definitions of Heaven and Earth then we can determine if there is any utility in trying to extrapolate poetic imagery upon a physical reality.

    The same problem occurs with defining and applying NT and OT “death” language correctly. Paul extensively uses “death” as a metaphor for the loss of the Gift of eternal life in the Garden which implies separation from God. Ephesians 2 illustrates the classic mode in which Paul uses “death” in his writings.

    Eph 2:1 2 And you WERE DEAD in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, … 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even WHEN WE WERE DEAD in our trespasses, MADE US ALIVE together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—

    This observation is often overlooked in Rom 5 and we naturally jump to conclusions that it is biological death under consideration when that is not the case. The Jews including Paul were interested in being redeemed from the loss of eternal life and through Christ that has been reinstated.

    Death is a great metaphor for illustrating that condition because it is the point at which those faithful to God are raised to eternal life otherwise our existence is no better off than “Rover who is dead all over” to put it in as a contemporary blunt metaphor.

  • EricG

    Thanks Bev. That doesn’t really answer, though, the point that under the TE view God purposefully used death and the resulting suffering as an essential part of the creation process. Again, I do susbsribe to the TE view, but think this issue needs to be worked out better than it has.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    Two books I have found helpful in regards to the issue of theodicy is a more science/faith approach by Dinesh D’Suuza called “God Forsaken.” For those who might feel God-forsaken, I would be interested in what they think of D’Souza’s book.

    The other book I found helpful on several fronts, its historical rootedness into theodices as well as its more practical approach. Rather than giving a rational end-all answer to theodicy, the book challenges it readers on a more practical level how to deal with pain and suffering. The book is Stanley Hauerwas “Naming the Silences: God, Medicine, aqnd the problem of suffering.” Here are a few points that Hauerwas makes:

    1. Before the enlightenment, suffering was not a metaphysical problem needing a solution but a practical challenge requiring a response.

    2. Modern theologies are often done in the context of our individualistic quest and assumed autonomy as the highest good. Therefore suffering in that context can not help but appear absurd, since it stands as a threat to our autonomy.

    3. Hauerwas argues that a shift in theodicy has happened where anthropodicy has replaced theodicy. The focus has shifted from God and his remedy to sin and suffering (the God who suffers) to us and our pain and personal suffering.

    Hauerwas knows he is not giving an apologetic or answer to theodicy (if there can be one?) but he is coming at it from a different angle than for those who simply want some kind of rationalistic explanation that is supposed to solve the riddle of human suffering and evil in the world.

  • CGC

    PS Eric,
    I don’t know if you have read D’Souza’s book but it is a kind of TE theodicy. I don’t have a problem going into it (I have read it from cover to cover:-) but I am leaving for vacation today and I know things are going to be very different for me for the next few weeks so I don’t know how much time I will really have to respond?

  • Bev Mitchell

    Eric (11),

    You say:
    “That doesn’t really answer, though, the point that under the TE view God purposefully used death and the resulting suffering as an essential part of the creation process”

    Whether or not this question is answered depends on the theodicy one proposes. If evil is only the absence of good, then God has done all things without opposition and my suggestion fails. If, on the other hand, God has permitted significant opposition to his will (in both spiritual and material realities) then what we see in creation is his good approach to that significant rebellion. His victory is assured, but the battle continues, the resurrection of Christ sealed the victory, but we still await his return as universally acknowledged King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I think this second view is scriptural. 

    Fundamentally, it boils down to our view of God and, in this case, our view of God’s view of free-will. The classical view of an unmoved, uncontested God does not yield as good a theodicy.

    A great resource for this kind of approach is Greg Boyd’s “Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theology” IVP 2001. A smaller version is his “Is God to Blame? Moving Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering” IVP 2003.  I haven’t read the second one, but Roger Olson does recommend it highly. (The only book I have ever heard him say he agrees with almost completely!)  BTW, the first book does take the open theology stance that Boyd is famous for. Olson says open theology is not required in the arguments of the second.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Hi CGC,

    Didn’t see your post (because I was busy writing mine – we were virtually talking at the same time). Thanks for the tip on Stanley Hauerwas’ Naming the Silences” Should be a great read and will be, I’m guessing, quite different from Boyd’s. We need all the help we can get!

    Have a great vacation!

  • EricG

    CGC — thanks. I read about half of D’Souza’s book, some of which is good, until I started to get the sense that his answer is something like “the universe is so fine tuned, no other world would work.” I’m sure that is an over simplification, but the argument struck me as weak and something that has been said before (Nancey Murphy, others). Again, we anticipate an eschaton where this stuff is not necessary — why was death and suffering a necessary aspect of the initial creation process? Also, couldn’t God just “make it so” without going through all that?

    I will check out Hauerwas’s book, thanks for the suggestion. I want to understand more, but my initial reaction is that the fact that these are questions based on Enlightenment or post-Enlightment worldview doesn’t take away from the need to address them.

  • CGC

    Hi Norman and all,
    Beales book is excellent (and he is even a conservative Evangelical 🙂 I think there is so much right in your approach but this also reminds me that people can still end up in different places theologically. I remember two of my friends who I kid you not, used the exact same hermeneutic on Scripture and one came out a complementarian and the other an egalitarian on their readings of Scripture. The real differences more resided in their different applications of the texts but that is another story.

    I think our approaches are similar but maybe with a little different nuances. Surely there is hebrew poetry and parellelism in Is.65-66 but I prefer to use the term analogies. Maybe if for no other reason, I believe it will be much harder for people to deny analogous imagy in these texts but people can real fast start coming up with their own definitions of ancient Hebrew poetry and the like.

    And Norman, your approach is certainly a possible interpretation of Is.65-66. But where I am is different for now so even though I think we start out in looking at these texts as highly representative language, canonically and historically, for what? I think we both see the temple imagery in the garden, the messianic imagary in Isaiah, etc. And If I understand your conclusions, at least two you give are (1) there is no new heaven and new earth, that is simply speaking of life on earth now? (under the rulership of Messiah Jesus?); and (2) That Adam’s sin in the garden had to be spiritual death, because biological death does not do justice to the language or the argument (you will surely die on the day you eat).

    I for one simply don’t want to draw fast and hard lines here between the poetic and history, between one meaning of the text and possible muti-layer meanings of the text. So I could be wrong Norman and you may be right but here is my own reading to this point of how I understand these issues.

    1. Yes, there is a new creation of God’s kingdom present and past (2 Cor.5:17). But there is also this whole teaching in the Jewish Talmud and the Bible of “the world to come” (Heb.2:5). And what about this millennial kingdom that as far as I know, all the earliest Christians interpreted as a coming kingdom and not one simply of the old earth which is passing away. I realize that new heaven and new earth can be translated as a kind of spiritual reality of this present life. But is there not an “already” (a kind of down deposit of the Holy Spirit heavenly dimension) that Paul speaks about as well as a “not yet (future completion and renewal of the cosmos in Rom.8 for example).

    Whatever the meaning of the new heaven and new earth, the imagery is clothed in such beauty, gladness, and a total transformation of the old into a new creation. I do agree that taking imagery like wolf, lion, and snake should not be taken literally much less many of the other images given in Isaiah. The point is not what literal activities are going to happen in the new Jerusalem or new heaven or new earth but that nature will no longer be our enemy, nor will we be nature’s enemy!

    2. In one sense, I agree with your interpretations but I’m not sure they go far enough? Yes, Adam’s sin did lead to spiritual death but is physical death not the point at all? It is interesting that the genealogies in Genesis go to great length to show that Adam and all his descendents did physically die. On top of that, the early fathers took the Scripture of a year is like a thousand with God that Adam never lived to a thousand years (he died actually on the first day). And I do understand the complexity or frustration some people have because the literal and figurative are sometimes so wrapped up together, that to try to unwrap them can do more damge than good.

    Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts on all this Norman.

  • EricG

    Bev — thanks for elaborating. I’m not sure I follow how what you’re saying, though, addresses the concern I am raising about TE. Are you suggesting that God’s decision to use pain and suffering to create via TE is his good or justified response to the evil brought about by the Fall of Satan? If so, how so? It doesn’t strike me as correct that God would need to choose to create us through the process of TE and death and suffering simply because he faced opposition from Satan.
    FWIW, I’m not oposed to open theism. I’ll also follow up with Boyd’s book (although I read a different book of his that seemed overly simplistic on these questions).

  • Adam

    Here’s how I see it, and this is the over simplified version.

    Only God is immortal and God created something that was not himself, therefore not immortal.

    I think the assumption that is commonly made is that the relationship between Adam and God was the final manifestation of creation. I don’t believe this to be the case and that it is Jesus that is the final manifestation of creation. This makes Jesus the POINT of creation instead of the SOLUTION to Adam’s screw up.

    The answer then to pain and death is the Resurrection. If we were left in our sin and death and not-Godness, that would indeed be cruel, but all of that is redeemed and completed in Jesus.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Eric (18),
    You say: 

    “It doesn’t strike me as correct that God would need to choose to create us through the process of TE and death and suffering simply because he faced opposition from Satan.”

    As for what God would “need” to do, the only thing I can think of is that he must act in ways consistent with his nature – he cannot deny himself. My proposal is only meant to speculate on what God might have done in order to begin the battle against permitted evil that would ultimately end up in complete victory for God. 

    If he is big into free-will for all he has created, as I believe is the case, then this works reasonably well for openers. If God is unopposed and into complete control and busy meticulously causing everything, then my proposal goes down in flames. Open theists like Sanders, Polkinghorne, Boyd and Oord make good cases for a God who is into freedom for his creation (because of the demands of Divine Love). Classical views of God, with its multitude of able supporters, see him unopposed and in complete control of everything, even standing outside of time while he exercises perfect control. How relationship can be worked into this classical view is quite mysterious to me. But that’s another question altogether.

  • Phil Miller

    I think both of Boyd’s scholarly books dealing with theodicy – God at War and Satan and the Problem of Evil are very good. I don’t have a problem with open theism either, but even if one does, I think there worth reading.

    Another good book is God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation by Terrence Fretheim. I appreciate Fretheim’s perspective a lot because he approaches the Old Testament in a way that I think makes much more sense than the way other theodicies do. It also helps to takes the question from out of the abstract. What does it mean for God to redeem us and what does it mean for us to live as agents of redemption in creation? Where is creation headed? These questions ultimately are more important than figuring out exactly where evil comes from.

  • CGC,

    You ask great questions and make very good observations. I’m afraid if we get into the details here on RJS’s current blog that it would sidetrack her purpose even though it is extremely pertinent to the issue at hand.

    If I can boil it down simply the New Heavens and Earth is terminology that essentially means a new covenant which we all know is what Christ came to establish. It’s a simple concept yet the language appears complex and it is until IMO one masters its nuances.(By the way this approach has to stand up to a consistent OT and NT application or it will be discredited) Christ ushered in the beginning of this new covenant or Kingdom if you will and during the next 40 years the church was in a transitional state which many scholars have classified as the New Exodus. Some believe the 40 year sojourn of the new church effectively ended with the desolation of the Jewish Temple which signified the end of the Old Heavens and Earth and old covenant ways under Moses (some believe we are in an everlasting New Exodus even now). The author of Hebrews addresses this issue extensively throughout that epistle and especially in Heb 8 and 12. The first century Christians were not looking for a 2000 year plus exodus but considered themselves in that transitional period until the sign of the Temple desolation that Christ predicted occurred. That would end the transitional period in their eyes and firmly leave the new covenant in place. Heb 3 & 4 is also another great section to see the New Exodus motif applied by the author.

    Heb 8: 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, … 13 In speaking of a new covenant, HE MAKES THE FIRST ONE OBSOLETE. And WHAT IS BECOMING OBSOLETE AND GROWING OLD IS READY TO VANISH AWAY.

    Heb 12: 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful FOR RECEIVING A KINGDOM that cannot be shaken,

    Now we could spend countless hours and write books upon the ramifications but most of this work has already been done by many people already so I’m not inclined to glaze people’s eyes over here with the details this brings up although I would love to if I didn’t have a day Job. 😉
    My point CGC is that what I classify as biblical symbolism is a consistent thread in its application throughout scripture and much of 2T literature. As I stated earlier it will be discredited if it isn’t consistent theologically. Otherwise I would have discarded this approach years ago.

    By the way here is a 2T take on Adam’s death applied metaphorically to the 1000 years as one day. It comes from around the 2nd century BC and the book of Jubilees. Notice how they were applying the 1000 years to one Day due to Adam’s eating of the forbidden tree.

    Jubilees 4:29 Adam died,… And he lacked seventy years of one thousand years; FOR ONE THOUSAND YEARS ARE AS ONE DAY in the testimony of the heavens and therefore was it written concerning the tree of knowledge: “On the day that ye eat thereof ye will die.” For this reason HE DID NOT COMPLETE THE YEARS OF THIS DAY; for HE DIED DURING IT.

  • CGC,

    Yes physical death was important because if you died physically without redemption you would be no better off than an animal and without the gift of eternal life. Ecc 3: portrays this Jewish lament and concern quite dramatically.

    Ecc 3: 19 For what happens to the children of Adam and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and adams has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of adams goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?

  • CGC

    Thanks Norman and all,
    I will be driving all night (the part I am not llking forward to). May God give you all his holy Shalom and Peace!

  • Dana Ames


    “Hence it is that we dread death, because dissolution, which is contrary to nature, cannot naturally be desired. Truly the first man would have passed to a better life, had he remained upright; but there would have been no separation of the soul from the body, no corruption, no kind of destruction, and, in short, no violent change.”

    is essentially the consensus of the Greek fathers. (I understand Calvin read the Greek fathers, although it’s clear they were not in agreement about other things.) I agree that just because a father said something doesn’t make it so, but the consensus needs to be heard and considered.

    Death remains the greatest enemy, but since Christ descended into it and conquered it, it has lost is sting, its victory. We still have to go through it, but because Jesus did, in a mysterious way it can also be blessed and holy. I believe it is one of the “all things” that are being transfigured, to be gathered up in Christ.

    Although I agree that the Isaiah passage makes use of Jewish literary forms and images, I can’t believe that we are ever completely separated from God. (If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there… ) I think in the new creation it’s going to work out somehow that once we get our new bodies, which will not be subject to corruption, we will not suffer death. We are told that sin and death will be no more. What that means for the ecosystems of the renewed earth, I don’t know. I trust Jesus will be able to manage things 🙂


  • Dana Ames

    your points in #12 are well taken. Hauerwas is an important voice.

    Do be careful on the road. Shalom to you, too.


  • Dan Yelovich

    Since this is Irenaeus’ feast day it might be good to remind ourselves that Augustine’s view of Eden is not the only early church view of what happened in the garden. Irenaeus believed that humanity was not created perfect but immature. The first couple did not fall but fell short of God’s call to advance into full maturity and impact an imperfect creation. There were real challenges imbedded in creation that had the potential of bringing them (and it) into a form of perfection but they missed the mark when they sinned. Irenaeus says: “… they are immature; as such they are inexperienced and not trained to perfect understanding. A mother, for example, can provide perfect food for a child, but at that point he cannot digest food which is suitable for someone older. Similarly, God himself certainly could have provided humanity with perfection from the beginning. Humanity, however, was immature and unable to lay hold of it.” Against Heresies 4:38.1 He goes on to say that through Christ humankind is “making progress day by day, and ascending towards the perfect, that is, approximating to the uncreated One. “Against Heresies 4:38.3 I think there are many aspects of Irenaeus’ theology that anticipates the Church moving toward God’s new creation.

  • Dana Ames


    Yes! Although EO commemorates St. Irenaeus on August 23, any day is a good day to remember what he said 🙂


  • Dan Yelovich

    Agreed. There’s enough there for a good morsel of wisdom 365 days a year!

  • Couple questions to throw out there:

    1. Is it possible for an infinite, eternal (not bound by the constraints of time and space) triune God of intertwined perfect unconditional loving connection to be known and loved by man as such if there were nothing that is “not God” to compare him with? Or, to use a metaphor, could the brilliance of light be noticed and appreciated if there were no shadows to see pierced? Yes, the light would exist and it’s warmth could be felt, but would its brightness and warmth have any meaning if you had never experienced anything else?

    2. Are death and suffering necessarily the same thing? MUST they go hand in hand? Aren’t some people able to enter into physical death without fear because they are at peace? Don’t some suffer physically with willing hearts for the good of another? It seems to me that Death and suffering can exist without “sting”. If this is so, then there must be another kind of death that is worse than physical death that enters with sin.

  • EricG

    Nate W.,

    Forgive me for getting personal with this, but my experience bears on your questions in — I have personally experienced a portion of the pain that millions have before dying, and no, what you say is simply not true for a lot of people who die. In particular, I have experienced the pain of cancer that makes one come close to passing out (doubtless many have passed out from it) — which many in the thousands of years before me have experienced even without our modern pain medicines. And if you are under any misapprehension that people tend to die peacefully even today, please read How We Die by Sherwin Nuland, an MD who debunks that myth forcefully. Death and immense suffering have gone hand in hand for countless people. They always have, and still do.

  • DRT

    EricG, what I would not give for a mind meld with you. Bless you brother.

    My limited experience with death shows that there are some who go peacefully. Have you seen angry old men, the movie? Their saying is “so and so died of a heart attack, lucky dog”.

    Even with cancer we had one relative, that my wife stayed next to, that was tortured for a long time, and another that did not experience much pain until the very very end, what a difference.

    I wish I knew how to deal with this issue of pain and suffering. It is quite difficult.

    I believe that it is part of life and we all need to live the life we are given. Easy for me to say, my life is quite charmed.

    Wow, need to go now.

  • OCD’er

    Thanks DRT – I haven’t had that sort of pain for a while, which is good. So far this time around I haven’t had really bad effects. And I don’t want to come across like i’m focused on death – I’m focused now on living as much as I can. I’ve got plenty of time to keep giving people around here a hard time!

    And you are right – while death is hard for many, that isn’t true for all. I just don’t think we should deceive ourselves that many types of deaths often involve significant suffering, which raises significant issues. Not that we can think about it too often or long – it is kind of like staring at the sun; can’t do it for too long.

  • EricG

    Oops – just outed myself as posting under OCD’er on another post (darn iPad). That was me, EricG.

  • TJR

    Nate asks,”are death and suffering necessarily the same thing?” I don’t know if any one said they were but I would have to say no they are not the same. When it comes to the theodicy issue, suffering is more of a problem for me that death. I’m not just talking about the pain that is necessary to live a safe life but things like the sheep liver fluke which Darwin described. Not to get too far off track but one other point about suffering and death- when we have a beloved pet that is suffering with no hope of survival we will end its suffering but for a human that is not an option( but this seems to be changing). Please lets not get off topic about “mercy killing” I only wanted to show that suffering and death are not the same thing.

  • EricG – Brother, i wont pretend to know what you or others who suffer such pain go through, but I really appreciate you stepping up and giving some perspective. Thank you for getting personal. We need voices forcing us to make this personal because it’s so easy for all of us intellectual types to make things such as death and pain into abstract ideas and intellectual/theological concepts.

    I certainly didn’t mean to diminish the reality and severity of suffering that is inexplicably faced by so many (though I realize now that I did do so). Over time I’ve come to realize that rational explanations, in themselves, are powerless to heal or comfort. Spiritual reality is not defined by beliefs or facts but by the connectiong of souls in love.

    I guess I was trying to ask questions that might speak to those who are intellectually involved in thinking about suffering but did not mean for my questions or their implications to be words spoken to rationalize or diminish the real experience of our suffering.

    When it comes right down to it, I guess I intellectually believe that in order to create something distinguisable from himself God would have to voluntarily withdraw himself (i.e. his essence–love, peace, eternallity, etc.) enough to form pocket of reality that is “not God”. Creation then, even in it’s “goodness” is marked by the felt absence of God, which is the essence of suffering and the shared experience of all humans. To suffer is to feel keenly the absence of God. Death is separation from all that is good and meaningful and true.

    So, I guess what I was trying to get at is that every human shares the pain of separation from peace, love, and joy. Every person seeks their whole life to find these—to find God—but the truth manifested in Christ is that these cannot be grasped except so far as they are given up. God gave them up voluntarily by withdrawing himself to create Christ gave them up in his incarnation, life, and death. For as long as the earth survives the Way of Christ will rule—the way of Life is wrapped in dying. The way of peace is a road of suffering. Joy is to mourn with those who are in pain.

    Of course these intellectual musings are meaningless. Nothing but vanity and chasing after the wind. Like my words could ever define the ways of God. The only answer to a person’s pain is to be with them in it, giving no explanation and not presuming to comfort them with words. The only meaning in this world is in giving our selves away, entering into suffering, and thus incarnating and rising with Christ in Love for those who are in pain.

    Again, so sorry if I seemed (or seem) to minimize your pain or imply that those who are “spiritual” should not experience pain and death as suffering. To be human is to suffer, but to be in Christ is to find the ability to give yourself away in love even in the midst of suffering. Death is real and incredibly painful, but in the end will lose its sting when love prevails.

  • I’m having difficulty understanding how folks who typically shy away from embracing YEC literal interpretations of Genesis gravitate back toward that hermeneutic in the rest of the scriptures. How is that most Theistic Evolutionist Christians readily see that the earth isn’t 6000 years old and that the process of the natural life & Death cycles have been in existence for a billion years on earth succumb to the idea that this billion year process is going to be changed here on planet earth someday. It is often proposed that earthly physical Death will disappear and the lion won’t eat the lamb any more just like the YEC say it was like in the beginning Garden. Does anyone else see a disconnect here somehow? How can one switch hermeneutic horses in mid-stream to argue against a literal interpretation of Genesis yet fully embrace that idea in clearly poetic/symbolic literature later on in Isa 65-66 and Rev 21? How can we keep a straight face when we denounce the YEC for not engaging physical reality in the historic past yet jump right in bed with that concept as a future manifestation for planet earth? How can logic justify such an approach?

    Doesn’t it make more sense to apply our understanding of Genesis consistently across the biblical spectrum instead of trying to work a hybrid biblical hermeneutic that we can shape change as we go along. This is especially disconcerting when the evidence is that the primary writer of NT theology (Paul) consistently recognizes OT symbolism and applies it concerning the Biblical definition of “Death” yet we turn a blind eye to his interpretations and act like he was like the rest of the ancients “simply ignorant” regarding biological origins. Isn’t the better answer simply that Paul is applying Jewish Midrash interpretive skills consistently as many TE’s recognize concerning Genesis. Paul didn’t have to have a clue concerning evolution to understand how Biblical literature was constructed and interpreted from the Jewish point of view. It’s well documented that the Alexandrian interpretive skills espoused by Philo had been in place for nearly a century when Paul came along. Also anyone reading the 2T literature like Paul could not help but comprehend the symbolism of Enoch, Jubilees and make the connection with the OT themes as it pervaded that era of Judaism and realize that it’s symbolism extended at least 500 years prior to Christ and the Exile.

    Shouldn’t we instead quit expounding so much upon the concepts of the ancient post first century church fathers who slid into Greek philosophy and instead apply ourselves to the Jewish ideas that we supposedly believe brought us the Bible and Christ. I hate to point it out but when we get too deeply into philosophy on these subjects we have left the Jewish mindset and entered the realm of Greek naturalistic thinking that has permeated and damaged the historic church. The Jews really kept things simple although they wrote in veiled literature that gets turned every direction imaginable because it can be played with easily by the indiscriminate. When we discuss the subject of “death” from the biblical concept I believe we first need to investigate the Jewish concepts fully and then we can apply a philosophical interpretive after we have laid the biblical foundation first. I constantly see science capable Christians especially at sites like Biologos drift into a preference for philosophical interpretations because they are not comfortable with Jewish biblical concepts yet.(They grasp philosophy readily but often can’t engage in deeper doctrinal discussion) I think we have the cart before the horse when it comes to applied biblical hermeneutical principles.

    How many science types also would rather sit down and read a philosophical author than spend time doing the leg work of studying strong theological works across a broad spectrum of biblical studies. How many commentaries and works on Pauline theology have we read how many various positions from Authors who are scholars on apocalyptic literature such as Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation? Is Ezekiel and Revelation literature that you avoid or have you developed an extensive comfort level with that kind of apocalyptic literature yet? Do you have a similar comfort level with at least the basic 2T literature that influenced the early church such as Enoch, Jubilees, Psalm of Solomon and 4 Ezra as examples? Have you studied any of the Dead Sea Scrolls literature to grasp what segments of Judaism were reading and thinking in those days? Or do you gravitate toward the church fathers after the fact that likely have lost significant Jewish thought processes and pick up their propensity to incorporate the Greek mind into the church. I’m not saying it’s not good to study them but often we study them first and the primary and original biblical thinking plays second fiddle. If we study Jewish things first then we can be more discerning about whether later commentators were accurately reflecting them instead of having to filter the Jewish ideas through tainted later thinking. You might recognize then that the Jewish Biblical concepts concerning “death” are handled much differently than they are by the Greek minded church that we have inherited. In reality we have so much more knowledge and tools available to us today than at any other time in history and we should be able to make better discernments as long as we realize that we carry acquired presuppositions that have been acquired through the ages which may need to be discarded. Don’t think because the Pope, Luther, Calvin or John Piper says something that its right.

  • TJR

    Norman #37, YEC interpretations are not the problem. The problem with YEC’s is their need of an inerrant Bible forces them to create a make believe science. If they could just say the Bible says that Adam was the first man or that the Bible says there was a world wide flood but these things just did not happen, the Bible is wrong. There would be no problem. The faulty hermeneutic comes from those who know the science is valid but also want to keep hold of an inerrant Bible. What they do is try to interpret the Bible so that agrees with the science of today and thus gets far removed from the original intent.

  • TJR #38

    My lament wasn’t really concerned with the YEC but with those who have moved beyond YEC in Genesis but are remaining stagnant in Biblical concepts found in Isa 11,65 & 66. When I see statements that the physical earth is going to be redeemed someday and “death” is going to be overcome for us who inhabit planet earth I realize that there is a lot of learning left to accomplish by the church about biblical literature. Taking these Isa and Rev sections and working them as literal is nothing short of what the YEC do to Genesis. Science has little to do with this issue because people who are doing this generally know science isn’t the aim of Genesis but they haven’t recognized their ipropensity to do the same as the YEC do in the rest of scripture.

  • RJS


    Science isn’t the point of Genesis or of the rest of the bible either. But the mission of God in the world is. Your approach to reading everything without including the idea that the imagery points to something important – including consummation and a new age – leaves little to scripture and the story of God. There is progress and purpose in creation and the course of the world.

    You claim the rest of us have “a lot of learning left to accomplish” … but I think you’ve thrown out the entire message and left little more than an age of life until the sun wimps out (however that it expected to happen).

    The imagery in Isaiah and Revelation is not “literal” – but it is meaningful in a concrete fashion.

  • RJS,

    You grossly overstate what I’m projecting. Are you saying the gift of eternal life is not sufficient grace for us when we leave to dwell with Jesus and God? Are you implying that the YEC are correct that the physical earth is in need of redemption to bring it back to the pristine Garden condition?

  • Bev Mitchell

    I don’t have time to give this  morning’s posts the attention they deserve – we will be on the road today. But I do want to second RJS when she says “Science isn’t the point of Genesis or of the rest of the bible either. But the mission of God in the world is.” 

    This is incredibly important. For one thing,  it seriously limits the questions we expect the Bible to answer. It also allows us to remain open to potential rereading when solid historical, literary and scientific evidence emerges. With this viewpoint, serious believers in the Gospel are carefully questioning not only long held interpretations but also some aspects of the Classical views of God – views that did not come entirely from Scripture, by the way.

     Much more to say, but we are on our way.

    Check out Christopher Wright’s “The Mission of God” for a wonderful development of this overwhelmingly important theme.


  • RJS


    The Messianic language in the prophets is also highly figurative. I think that Jesus is the messiah and that it happened in a way consistent with the message of the prophets, but also in a way different than anyone expected. Likewise the new creation language in the prophets and in Revelation (and elsewhere) is figurative – but represents a reality that (HT Wright) when it happens will leave us saying “of course, it had to be this way.”

    This is a new creation – but isn’t a return to the Garden.

  • Cody

    I think the assertion that death came with the Fall can be well supported:
    • Witherington on who controls death – “It was not an uncommon notion in early Christian thinking that the devil controlled death (1 Cor 5:5; 10:10; Jn 8:44), and in early Judaism Satan was identified with the serpent in Eden’s garden (Wisdom of Solomon 2:23-24; cf. Rev 12:9; Jn 8:44).” (Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary on Hebrews, James and Jude. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007, 156 on Hebrews 2:14).
    • John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (cf. 1 John 3:8a, “the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”).
    • Ridderbos on John 8:44 – “From the beginning of the world he was a murderer, and it was he who from then on perverted the truth. This refers, of course, to the event in paradise in which the devil brought death on humankind by falsehood and deception (cf. 1 Jn. 3:8; Ro. 7:11). His desires consist in murder and falsehood…. The expression (literally) ‘he has not stood for the truth’ means that the truth was not his starting point of standpoint and must also be understood in connection with the Genesis story. For when the devil approached humankind he help out, not the truth (of the word of God), but the lie, thus deceiving the destroying humans (Gn. 3:1ff.).” (Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, trans. John Vriend. Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 1997, 315, on John 8:44).
    • Chrysostom on John 8:44 – “’For,’ He [Jesus] says, ‘to murder belongs to the wickedness of the devil.’ And He said not merely, ‘you do his works,’ but, ‘you do his lusts,’ showing that both he and they hold to murder, and that envy was the cause. For the devil destroyed Adam, not because he had any charge against him, but only from envy. To this also He alludes to here.” (John Chrysostom, John Hom. 54.3 on verses 42-44).
    • Wisdom 1:12-3, 2:23-4 – “(12) Court not death by your erring way of life, nor draw to yourselves destruction by the works of your hands. (13) Because God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living…. (23) For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. (24) But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it.”
    • Rom 7:11 “For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” (Witherington thinks this is Adam talking at this point; could Paul have substituted ‘sin’ for Satan in parts of Romans as some sort of cipher for rhetorical purposes? Sin has a ‘power’ 3:9, ‘reigns’ 5:21, 6:12, 14, has ‘slaves’ 6:6, 16, 17, 20, 7:14, 25, people have to be ‘freed’ from it 6:7, 18, 22, 8:2, and is tightly connected to death as cause to effect 5:12, 14, 21, 6:23. Could this be a person or at least the affects of a person? A ‘reverse metonymy’ is the use of the name of a thing to refer to one or more of its attributes. Could ‘sin’ be a partially applied rhetorical device that oscillates between the literal entity (sin) and the thing that controls or causes it (Satan)?
    • Justin Martyr on Satan’s power of death – “He [Jesus] submitted to be born and to be crucified, not because He needed such things, but because the human race, which from Adam had fallen under the power of death and the guile of the serpent [or, ‘since the sin of Adam, the human race had fallen under the serpent’s power of death and error’], and each one of which had committed personal transgression. For God, wishing both angels and men, who were endowed with freewill, and at their own disposal, to do whatever He had strengthened each to do, made them so, that if they chose the things acceptable to Himself, He would keep them free from death and from punishment; but that if they did evil, He would punish each as He sees fit.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 88.4, Coxe 1903 American revision of Edinburgh edition; alt. Rondet & Finegan, Original Sin, 28).
    • Erickson on Gen 3:19 – “We must observe that physical death is linked to the fall in some clear way. Genesis 3:19 would seem to be not a statement of what is the case and has been the case from creation, but a pronouncement of a new situation: ‘By the sweat of your brow you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (Millard Erickson, Christian Theology 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998, 629-30).

  • Cody

    In terms of the question of immortality, I think the following considerations may be helpful:
    • Michael Heiser on contingent immortality – “[Concerning the judgment on Adam and Eve, the point is not] that they were put to death at the moment Yahweh judged them, but that they must die as a result of their actions (i.e., they would become mortal)…. [As some argue,] Adam and Eve possessed contingent immortality before the Fall. In that case their punishment would involve removing that contingency (i.e., the tree of life from which they ate) which maintained their immortality. The effect would be the same—they were now fully mortal and could not avoid death.” (Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” Bibliotheca Sacra 158 (January-March 2001), 52-74, p 64 & n50.
    • Possible meanings of ‘you will surely die’ – “’For when you eat from it you will surely die,’ or ‘in the very day, as soon as’ (NET Bible). If one understands the expression to have this more precise meaning (‘in the very day’), then the following narrative presents a problem, for the man does not die physically as soon as he eats from the tree. In this case one may argue that spiritual death is in view. If physical death is in view here, there are two options to explain the following narrative: (1) The following phrase ‘You will surely die’ concerns mortality which ultimately results in death (a natural paraphrase would be, ‘You will become mortal’), or (2) God mercifully gave man a reprieve, allowing him to live longer than he deserved. Heb ‘dying you will die.’ The imperfect verb form here has the nuance of the specific future because it is introduced with the temporal clause, ‘when you eat…you will die.’ That certainty is underscored with the infinitive absolute, ‘you will surely die.’ The Hebrew text (‘dying you will die’) does not refer to two aspects of death (‘dying spiritually, you will then die physically’). The construction simply emphasizes the certainty of death, however it is defined.” (NET Bible Notes for Gen. 2:17).
    • Leon Morri on Gen. 2:17 – “The Hebrew construction emphasizes the certainty of death, however it is defined. Why did Adam and Eve not die immediately? The phrase ‘in the day’ in Hebrew is an idiom meaning ‘for certain’ (cf. Exod. 10:28; 1 Kings 2:37, 42).” (Leon Morris, The Wages of Sin, p. 10).
    • Justin Martyr on Gen. 2:17 – “Tryphon makes the objection that God has said to Adam: ‘On the day that you eat of this fruit, you shall die.’ ‘But,’ he says, ‘Adam died at the age of 900.’ Justin replies that, to God, one day is as a thousand years.” (Henri Rondet, Original Sin: The Patristic and Theological Background, trans. Cajetan Finegan. Staten Island, New York: Alba House, 1972, 28.. See Dialogue with Tryphon 81.3).

  • TJR

    Was death a part of the first creation? Yes, according to the scientific evidence. Now, the question becomes what the Bible teaches. We can’t expect the Bible authors to have known what we know about geology and biology so they could be wrong in regard to death. But this is also a theological question so it becomes more of a problem. It may be that some people read too much into Gen. 2-3. First off I don’t see anything that deals with death in general – plants, animals, microbes. It is only human death that is the issue. As to human death I think of it more in terms of the loss of the chance of immortality than a sentence of death on someone who was destine to live forever. I must stop now but can explain why I think of it this way, if anyone is interested.

  • TJR,

    I agree with you if you are asserting that the Garden story is about the loss of the gift of eternal life and that Christ restored that right for those who are faithful.

  • Cody

    I’m wondering if by not considering ‘contingent immortality’ (option ‘a’ below–which is what N.T. Wright thinks Gen 3 is about and Michael Heiser as noted above) but only ‘essential immortality’ (option ‘b’ below–Plato’s version) under the heading of ‘immortality”, you are making the same mistake that Wright accuses James Barr of? Oscar Cullmann’s dichotomy of ‘immortality of the soul or resurrection of the dead’ presumes they are exhaustive options, which they are not. Below I have produced in broad brush what seem to me as the logically possible options with possible adherent, 7 of which would fall under the category of ‘immortality’:

    (1) essential bodily immortality (don’t know of any adherents although Peter van Inwagen may come close) — (2) essential immortality of the soul (Plato, Calvin–Institutes I,xv,2, Battles trans. p. 192, et al.) — (3) essential immortality of the body/soul compound (could Enoch be a case?) — (4) essential bodily mortality (physicalists/materialists past and present) — (5) essential mortality of the soul (Aristotle?) — (6) essential mortality of the body/soul compound (Aristotle?) — (7) contingent bodily immortality/mortality (if contingent then immortal/mortal amount to the same thing–if van Inwagen is an annihilationist then he belongs in this category I think) — (8) contingent immortality/mortality of the soul (Platonic Christian annihilationists?) — (9) contingent immortality/mortality of the body/soul compound (Genesis?, New Testament?, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Athanasius, and Cyril of Jerusalem–see MC Steenberg, Of God and Man, 2009–Augustine, City of God XIX,3, et al., esp. Aquinas, ST I,75-6).

    Here is the quote from Wright: “Death itself was sad, and tinged with evil. It was not seen, in the canonical Old Testament, as a happy release, an escape of the soul from the prison-house of the body. This, of course, is the corollary of the Israelite belief in the goodness and god-givenness of life in this world…. Around this point we meet a tension, well known and full of theological import, between death as the natural ending of all mortal life and death as the punishment for sin. This tension runs back (assuming the point of view of a first-century reader) to Genesis 2.17, 3.3, and 3.22: eating from the tree of knowledge will result in death, but even after the first pair have done so there remains the possibility that they might eat from the tree of life and so live forever. We may note the especially pregnant point that if the promised punishment for eating the forbidden fruit was death, the actual, or at least immediate, punishment was banishment from the garden. Since, however, thee point of banishment was so that they could not eat from the tree of life and thus live forever (3.22-4), the two amount more closely to the same thing than it might appear at first sight. This complex argument has been suggestively discussed by James Barr [The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality, 1992] as part of his argument that, despite the too-much-protesting statements of Cullmann [Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead, 1958] and others, the Bible does indeed concern itself with human immortality. Barr is surely right to stress that the Genesis story as it now stands indicates that humans were not created immortal, but had (and lost) the chance to gain unending life. For his discussion to be taken forward, however, it is vital to distinguish at least four senses of immortality: (a) ongoing physical life without any form of death ever occurring; (b) the innate possession of an immortal part of one’s being, e.g., the soul…, which will survive bodily death; (c) the gift from elsewhere, e.g., from Israel’s god, to certain human beings, of an ongoing life, not itself innate in the human makeup, which could then provide the human continuity, across an interim period, between the present bodily life and the future resurrection; (d) a way of describing resurrection itself. The first, it seems, is what Adam and Eve might have gained in Genesis 3; the second is the position of Plato; the third emerges, as we shall see later, in second-temple writings such as the Wisdom of Solomon; the fourth is emphasized by Paul. Barr, however, never draws such distinctions with any clarity. His proof that the Bible is indeed concerned with ‘immortality’ thus fails to hit all the relevant nails squarely on the head.” (N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003), 92-3.)

  • RJS and Bev,
    I don’t begin to hold to a concordist viewpoint and recognize that the Gen language is not about science (not even ancient science).
    RJS said … “Likewise the new creation language in the prophets and in Revelation (and elsewhere) is figurative – but represents a reality that (HT Wright) when it happens will leave us saying “of course, it had to be this way.”
    I couldn’t agree more with the first part of your statement and that it represents reality. Wrights add on though is highly ambiguous and doesn’t serve any logical insight to this issue. What is the consummated reality of the Kingdom is the question at hand and my premise is that we have the consummated Kingdom of Christ fully established now. That means the gift of eternal life is fully established again and forgiveness of sins for the faithful are realities.
    Could you expound upon what kind of realities that are going to occur in the future that we don’t have already that add important dimensions to the promises of Christ the messiah. He has already defeated “Death” which is the separation for the faithful from God and with that we have the gift of Eternal life.
    Eph 2:1 2 And you WERE DEAD in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, … 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even WHEN WE WERE DEAD in our trespasses, MADE US ALIVE together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—
    If one now has Life eternal with God then could it be explained how that reality is lacking in any way?
    RJS it seems to me that you want Biblical literature to remain obscure enough that we can impose physical ramifications upon it. Don’t you realize that is the very same argument the YEC use against you concerning your interpretation of Genesis? They simply go backwards in history while you project forward.
    You simply can’t have your cake and eat it too while arguing against the YEC logical applications regarding Genesis. I just want folks who make hermeneutical applications to explain how they can switch back and forth between a literal and symbolic application without good reasoning behind it. If statements like Wrights are your backbone arguments then there is no logic to your argument. You as a trained scientist should understand logical consistency better than anyone. This has nothing to do with Faith which is our requirement but is about applying logical skills to biblical theological interpretations.

    Rereading the scriptures in light of the original intent is what I’m all about. I believe that removes the concordist and literalness that has crept into the church over the ages. I think you would agree that the church has been essentially wrong over the centuries regarding the meaning of Genesis by and large. We have to come to emotional grips with that reality if we are going to be good stewards of what has been given the church from the ancients. If we shy away from asking the hard questions then we are fostering a less than favorable environment in which clear thinking outsiders might consider what we are presenting. They already know that YEC is silly and I would estimate they have raised eyebrows about our Rapture, various millennial projections, changing earth to a physical paradise and such as highly questionable also. Sometimes we Christians get so enamored with our ideas that we think everyone thinks just like we do, well no they don’t and I’m sure you realize that more than most having had to work with good non believing science types over the years.

    We can’t change for the sake of change but we can perhaps do a better job of investigating some of our extreme ideas that we harbor still. Most people outside of the science types don’t worry about the Genesis Flood accounts but those who understand the silliness of taking the flood account literally started investigating what the language actually meant to the ancient authors. We might not have done so if we weren’t aware of the problems a literal approach leaves us with. It’s the same way with the eschatological application of a New Heavens and Earth application. Many people have already recognized that this is simply like the flood account and is highly symbolical Hebrew literature that is basically about the works and establishment of the New Kingdom of Christ. People who are not curious about those issues simply fall in line with the ancient church who also didn’t understand Genesis and the flood either and adhered to the status quo.

    I’m challenging our hermeneutic approach on both ends of scripture as there is plenty of evidence to not ignore the subject. I realize it may make people have to rethink some of their emotional attachments but haven’t we been doing that already in Genesis. Some ideas die a hard death as we should fully understand by now.

  • RJS


    The YEC argument is that we have no basis to accept resurrection if we view genesis 1-3, 6-9 etc. as figurative.

    This is not true for many reasons.

    You seem to be saying if we accept Gen 1-3 as figurative we must accept everything as figurative. This is also not true for many reasons. I pointed to the messianic language in Isaiah and Jeremiah as an example. Should we think this was merely figurative?

    I don’t want the literature to remain “obscure” – I do want to avoid the either all A or all B hermeneutic you are espousing, which is essentially the same as the YEC argument.

  • Cody

    Sorry I called you Scot earlier. Here are a couple more quotes to be considered especially if you take seriously the claims of those writing prior to the current creation/evolution controversy seriously as you mentioned doing with Calvin.
    • Irenaeus (AD 115-202) – “In order that the man [Adam] should not entertain thoughts of grandeur nor be exalted, as if he had no Lord,… passing beyond his own measure… [by adopting] an attitude of self-conceited arrogance against God, a law was given to him from God, that he might know that he had as lord the Lord of all [Gen. 2:16-17]. And he placed certain limits upon him, so that, if he should keep the commandment of God, he would remain always as he was, that is, immortal; if, however, he should not keep it, he would become mortal, dissolving into the earth whence his frame was taken.” (Irenaeus, Epideixis 15, as quoted in: M.C. Steenberg, Irenaeus on Creation: The Cosmic Christ and the Saga of Redemption. Boston: Brill, 2008, p154, italics mine.)
    • “In the classical tradition, an original fall served as a cipher for two kinds of changes from more to less or better to worse…. After Adam’s sin [1] the capacities of human nature are less than before. After the loss of paradisal conditions and [2] the entry of suffering, domination, and death, human existence is worse than before.” (Tatha Wiley, Original Sin: Origins, Developments, Contemporary Meanings. New York: Paulist Press, 2002, pp53-54.)

  • TJR

    Norman #47, thats very close to what I’am saying but with one qualification. It’s not so much about the loss of the gift of eternal life as about the loss of the opportunity to gain eternal life. This is a motif of ancient literature.

  • RJS,

    I believe you’re missing some of the nuance of what I am saying. I’m saying that there is a lot of scripture that is hyperbolic and poetic in nature and we need to learn how to discern what is meant when that kind of literature is used.

    You ask if I think messianic language in Jeremiah and Isaiah is often figurative? Of course I do, how else are you going to describe domestic and wild animals lying down together at the time that the root of Jesse arrives? Are you saying that the animals are going to literally change in order that they won’t be food for one another? That’s what the YEC hermeneutic would say.

    I’m really having a difficult time understanding by what method you make decisions interpreting figurative language. Biblical literature should not be interpreted in a willy nilly pick a hermeneutic as you choose approach. There is a method and purpose behind its structure and just like in science if we investigate it deeply enough we can discern the logic of its implementation by the authors.

    Your statement that I’m espousing “either all A or all B hermeneutic” simply reflects that you aren’t grasping the issue fully. Biblical hermeneutics simply reflects the authors’ intent by an examination of many factors. If one thinks Jonah is swallowed by a large fish is literal then one need to establish that Hebrew literature doesn’t leave any room for a non-literal examination. It’s the same with literature in 2 Peter 3 where the land will be burned up and the elements will melt. If it can be established that this is OT hyperbolic imagery that Peter is using and that it has described God’s judgment upon Israel or the Nations in the past then one has a good clue that Peter is using it in a similar fashion concerning judgment. It shouldn’t be used to project a future date when the physical earth is going to become enflamed physically as many literalists do.

    RJS, I would not venture to enter into your area of expertise and tell you how to grapple with Biological and chemical concepts that you know well. I would say that unless you become more involved in learning to discern apocalyptic literature that you should be cautious about going with the standard historical church flow as history tells us where that often leads. You already understand how important that understanding was for grasping Genesis and you perceive the ANE mindset. You really should broaden your scope in order to develop a broader concept of biblical literature. More knowledge never hurts and allows for a deeper discourse upon biblical subjects. I understand the reluctance of people to spend time in the apocalyptic such as Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation as I used to never venture there myself. However; not knowing that type of literature sufficiently leaves one sitting on a three legged stool with one leg missing.

    I’m sorry if I’m coming across in a supercilious manner but I feel some of the same intent toward me as well. If we can’t challenge each other, then likely we are just going along to get along and not much is being learned.

  • RJS


    No – I didn’t ask if the messianic language is often figurative. I asked if you thought Jesus was the real fulfillment of that messianic language despite the fact that the language is often figurative and that incarnation and resurrection would not (most likely) have been core to the original human author’s view.

    The nuance of what I am trying to say is that figurative language, including apocalyptic figurative language, can have real concrete intent and fulfillment.

  • TJR

    Cody could you clarify something from comment #48. I’am not clear on the mistake that Wright accuses James Barr of. You quote Wright as saying “Barr is surely right to stress that the Genesis story as it now stands indicates that humans were not created immortal, but had (and lost) the chance to gain unending life”. This is exactly what I think as well. So what is Barr’s mistake? What ever your view of immortality the point is they did not have it but had the chance to get it-which they lost. Also, I would think that Barr would be as familiar with Hebrew concepts of what happens after death as Wright, if not more so as Barr is an OT scholar and Wright a NT.

  • RJS,

    I hope you don’t think I believe figurative langage doesn’t have concrete fulfilment. I don’t think I’ve ever said anything that would lead someone to that conclusion.

    TJR #52
    Yes again, I agree with this statement of yours. “the loss of the opportunity to gain eternal life”

  • EricG

    So after reading all the comments, I’m left where I started. We really don’t have anything close to a good answer to the question why God would use death and suffering as the means for creation, as theistic evolution suggests.

    This is a serious issue, since evolution is clearly true.

    SBC posed the same question to Biologos, which gave a very weak initial response, and promised a more complete response but appears not to have followed through.

    The theodicy question should be the focus in my mind, and is the far harder issue. This biblical interpretation stuff comes across, from someone in my position, as an academic exercise in avoidance of the real issue.

  • RJS


    The theodicy issue is a far harder issue. To be honest, I am wary of stepping in here because I don’t quite know where to go with it and I don’t want to go wrong.


    But you seem to rule out the idea that the apocalyptic language in the prophets could have a concrete fulfilment in any meaningful fashion. I am not saying any given piece does or will – just that we can’t dismiss it as completely as you seem wont to do. Yes the language about new creation is figurative. Overly literal interpretation is not the right approach. But I am not using a bad or naive hermeneutic simply because I don’t agree with your approach.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Hi Norman,

    Finally off the road and catching up. I can’t say I completely follow the ‘disagreement’ between you and RJS and the slight animosity creeping in is likely explained by confusion and misunderstanding – perhaps even a bit of two ships passing in the night. All of us (most of us) here seem very willing to take the best scholarly advice on what the genre of various passages of scripture is likely to be, and interpret accordingly, so it’s hard to see that as the source of the problem. As for objectionable eschatology, though there is plenty of that in the Christian bookstores, I haven’t read it here. So, exactly what eschatology conclusions, projections, speculations are you two disagreeing about?

    Here is a bit of my current take on “end times” (hoping that that phrase doesn’t seem too far out for you)  🙂 

    You say:

    “I would estimate they (non-Christian observers) have raised eyebrows about our Rapture” 

    That’s for sure, especially when extremists (and I think that is the correct noun/adjective) appear to want to hasten conflict in the MIddle East because “that’s the way it must end.” Marx also had a guaranteed direction and outcome for history all worked out and his followers were quite willing to help things along toward that goal. This is all, of course, crazy and moderate evangelicals should start calling a spade a spade before really serious damage is done.

    But then you counter the following observation by RJS:
    “a reality that (NT Wright) (said) when it happens will leave us saying ‘of course, it had to be this way.’ ” 
    with this conclusion,
    “Wrights add on though is highly ambiguous and doesn’t serve any logical insight to this issue”
    and later,
    “changing earth to a physical paradise and such as highly questionable also” 

    You are correct, to speculate beyond what happened in the Incarnation and the Resurrection is not terribly useful, largely because who could reasonably say that we need more than those two indescribable events? However, along with great patience, great love of diversity, an amazing sense of drama, our God seems unafraid of leaving us absolutely speechless while doing something amazing that we, perhaps, should have seen coming.  

    For example, if all of us Christians would do a much better job of following the leading of the Holy Spirit, not many who understood what is happening would argue too much about the direction of change or the goals (“greater things than these will you do”). Then, when Jesus returns to put a complete end to the permitted opposition (for we are at war spiritually) things are going to change dramatically. The resurrection of Christ is probably our best clue as to the nature of thing we might expect in the way of drama. Considering none of the outstanding scholars of Scripture predicted the Incarnation or the Resurrection (without divine revelation) I don’t think NT Wright is far off in being prepared to be very surprised indeed.

    There is a new and unbelievably better day coming!

  • Bev Mitchell

    Hi Eric,
    You lament,
    “So after reading all the comments, I’m left where I started. We really don’t have anything close to a good answer to the question why God would use death and suffering as the means for creation, as theistic evolution suggests.”

    Well, you are not alone brother! I am trying to think through a line of reasoning that sees God’s acting to make possible the self-developing world that we experience, as his solution to a spiritual rebellion that he permitted. By permitted, I mean only that, probably before creation, God gave control of something big to one of his chief angels (Lucifer). Because God is love, this assignment included freedom to act, even if the actions of his powerful administrator went against God’s immediate will. 

    According to scripture, there is a limit on this assignment, the timing of which ‘only the Father knows’. Lucifer used his freedom to rebel and, in rebellion, limited what God could do, for now, in response. What God did do was the very best that could be done, and, God being God, the outcome will ultimately be what God wants, and the rebellion will end. Furthermore, this will all be done through the love of God – not through coercion, not through some tyrannical action. God is sovereign and we expect him to alone decide how he will exercise his sovereignty (we don’t get a vote, thankfully).  Abundant scriptures make it clear that God has decided to exercise his sovereignty through divine love. 

    This is hard for us to understand. We more easily understand Satan’s method as presented to Jesus in the desert – take over and run the place my way, after all, you are all powerful aren’t you? This we understand, all to well.

    I’ve stated this in various ways here and elsewhere without much feedback. Too shocking? Too far out? Impossible to understand? I’ve got no idea. Obviously it needs work. But then, I don’t feel lonely since any explanation out there that tries to blend modern science with theodicy and with divine creation thrown into the mix also needs lots of work. 🙂

    If enough people are interested, I’ll try to explain this better in another post. Bottom line, and I think I’ve said this here before, a view of God somewhat different from the classical, unopposed, impassible, omniscient being we probably all grew up with is needed if anything like this speculative scenario is going to have legs. 

    As for reading that helps but doesn’t directly touch on this theme the best two books I know of are:

    Christopher J. H. Wright “The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith” Zondervan 2008
    Thomas Jay Oord “The Nature of Love: A Theology” Chalice Press 2010

  • EricG


    Thanks for the honesty. I often feel like evangelicals get so caught up in a war of biblical interpretation that they miss the real questions that present us in life. I’m not criticizing you– just expressing frustration at the state of affairs. I think you do a great job helping evangelicals through the truth of evolution and related issues.


    Thanks, but I don’t see how any of that relates to my question. I pressed you on this before, and don’t think we are communicating. The question is why God would choose to create through the death and suffering that TE suggests. If you believe the Christian story, it was God who created — not Satan. This was God’s doing. You have not suggested any link between the supposed fall of Satan, or God’s loving/self-emptying/non-coercive nature, or whatever, and why God would choose to create this way. You are throwing out a bunch of stuff I’ve heard before, but does not appear to have a relationship to my question, from what I can tell.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Hi Eric,

    “why God would choose to create through the death and suffering”

    I am suggesting that God did not choose to create this way, but that this was the very best option open to him in the face of significant, permitted spiritual rebellion. If we cannot accept that spiritual rebellion, on Satan’s part or on our part, actually thwarts significant parts of God’s perfect will, then we must see God as in control of everything – the good, the bad and the ugly. Many do believe that God does control everything, and even renders everything that happens certain. If this is the case, you are correct, theistic evolution makes no sense, and we are back to square one.

    To make progress along the lines I am suggesting, a rethinking of the classical view of an all powerful, totally controlling, unopposed God is necessary. I’m not suggesting that anyone make such a drastic change in how they think about God. But, just like you, I see no answer to your question if God indeed was unopposed in creating what we see on this earth. 

  • EricG

    Thanks for the explanation Bev. Gives me some questions to ponder. Are you suggesting a sort of process theology, or something short of that?
    I am not one who sees God behind tsunamis, etc., in large part because of the problems that view of sovereignty causes. If I can find a way to apply that to the method of creation it could help in the same way, but raises more questions about what it means to view God as creator. And if he is so limited then how much influence can he have today, or in rescuing us in the end. Does that God look too little like traditional notions of the Christian God to be recognizable. Just questions this all presents in my mind. Your suggestion has me thinking more, thanks.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Hi Eric,

    We are indeed like curious fleas on a wooly mammoth! Sometimes we forget that our epistemological horizons are laughably limited. As for my ideas being some kind of process thought, absolutely not. That thinking does make the Christian God unrecognizable. Nor do I agree to panentheism. In no way is creation necessary to make God complete – he can do all that within himself. But, he also chooses to create, in, through and because of love. In so doing, according to all of Hebrew-Christian Scripture, he enters into time, reveals himself to us, feels our pain, is saddened when we reject him, never stops loving us, actually comes to us in a once in eternity Incarnation and, in actual human form lived among us. His Resurrection and Ascension finally reveal something of his great plan for the future.

    Please do consider reading Thomas Jay Oord’s  “The Nature of Love: A Theology” Chalice Press 2010. Especially read his last chapter on Essential Kenosis. Don’t read process theology or panentheism into what he says. Some do, maybe because of willful misunderstanding (it has happened). His work is not the ‘answer’, and Tom is the first to say this. But it is a good beginning. At the moment, of course, his approach is completely unacceptable to much of Reformed thinking – but, in this among many young theologians, he is not alone 🙂

    God bless you Eric, and I certainly continue to pray for you and your family.


  • RJS and Bev,

    First I think I need to clear the air just a tad.

    Just because I have some technical application differences on biblical hermeneutics doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of both of you. RJS is uncomfortable with some of my hermeneutics as I am with some of hers. However in the big scheme of things I fully support what RJS is all about in giving untold hours of devotion to issues that often cause problems for our culture. I’m all about that as well but likely take it a little further than she is comfortable with in the realm of biblical eschatology which is an area I have spent untold hours researching what the original Hebrew ideas were most concerned with. The premise I have come to is that they had a much simpler understanding of messianic eschatology than the historical church has led us to believe. This is due to the difficulty in sorting our figurative and apocalyptic language that carried the day for prophets and scribes for hundreds of years until the church was birthed through Christ. The Jewish skills of interpreting this biblical imagery started to be lost quickly because of the influx of a Greek minded philosophy that is often counter intuitive to what the ordinal intent was meant. Also when people don’t grasp the imagery they naturally default to a literal understanding thinking that is the safe route when it is not. It’s hard to have that conversation though when it is a very technical hermeneutic discussion that requires extensive background in order to grasp the at large context.

    RJS you stated again… “But you seem to rule out the idea that the apocalyptic language in the prophets could have a concrete fulfilment in any meaningful fashion.”

    Can I be blunt here? How many times do I have to repeat that I do indeed see concrete fulfillment in a most meaningful fashion. I just don’t see some of the over Literalizing as pertinent to that meaningful fulfillment. You seem to want the language to render an eventual physical manifestation while I see it as God already establishing His spiritual manifestation via Christ and the Church living life through the Holy Spirit walk with God. This is contrasted to the old covenant approach of walking with God through human priest who were intermediates using animal sacrifices and ritual worship avenues to establish a form of righteousness. The book of Hebrews clearly illustrates that the “evolving” church or “body of Christ” was replacing that model that Paul calls the “works of the flesh”. That change in approach is huge for the faithful follower of God to not be burdened with that old covenant methodology anymore.

    Now let’s talk about the future and let’s see where my understanding is defective in contrast to the view I perceive RJS is projecting. I do not project that physical earth will be changed in some form of spiritual dynamic. However I get to the same bottom line that RJS does through the Hebrew concept of the “Gift of Eternal life”. I believe that eternal life is a post mortem gift in which God brings His faithful to reside in a realm that has been created for us. I believe that is where the resurrected Christ bodily resides today with the past faithful. Since Christ has been resurrected then He is where I want to be, if it’s good enough for Christ then I’m comfortable with God provisioning it good enough for us as well. However it seems that Wright and possibly RJS believe that the physical earth will be transformed someday to host the faithful in an apocalyptic visionary model. Essentially though both of us believe that God is going to provide for our eternal habitation so in effect our differences are somewhat moot when you get down to the bottom line practical application. And please RJS, don’t insinuate that I’m projecting a bodiless realm because I don’t bring us all back some day to a resurrected planet earth. I think God can provide us a body just like Christ, wherever we end up residing.

    However I am concerned with our religious cultures fascination with running too far with apocalyptic literature to build concepts beyond what the scriptures really intended from an original Jewish standpoint. The reality is in the Hands of God and He will provide one way or the other but my point is being accurate with the language. I especially am concrete concerning the realization of the faithful having the gift of eternal life set before us, I just don’t see it concretely in a literalizing manner; otherwise we could literally expect domestic and wild animals to lay down together in some future heaven on earth Garden paradise. If that is what it turns out to be then I’ll take it, but I don’t think that was the theological intent of the author with his poetic language.


    You can click on my name and it will take you to a webpage presenting a book that I was involved with about 5 years ago assisting the two authors. I would be glad to send you a copy if you would actually be interested in reading it. It is taken from the full Preterist hermeneutical position and will provide you with a background upon apocalyptic applied hermeneutics. I would not expect you to agree with everything in the book as I don’t either but it would assist you in understanding how many of us wrestle with the challenging concepts of apocalyptic language. It would definitely broaden your scope of learning which is a good thing as you appear to me as one who likes to understand how different folks approach biblical concepts.


  • RJS


    The full preterist view of the material you link is a minority view – an extreme minority view. This doesn’t mean it is necessarily wrong, and you are welcome to argue it here when it is consistent with the topic of the post (and it is on this post, at least consistent enough). But it won’t go unchallenged.

    The point of this post, by the way, had nothing to do with eschatology. It was aimed at two points (1) The view of all death as alien to creation wasn’t as pervasive as some would have us believe, and (2) This comes from a reading of scripture not as an imposition of science.

    Immortality is a divine gift. And on this we agree (I think).

  • Bev Mitchell


    Thanks for the reference. I had a look at the link and on to the Preterist Research Institute site which claims to “Answer Christianity’s Greatest Challenge”. Respectfully, I don’t think eschatological concerns are Christianity’s greatest challenge. Rather, our greatest challenge is how to live in this world, under the guidance of and in obedience to the Holy Spirit, in ways that more and more resemble how Jesus Christ did this when he walked among us.

    Forgive me all, but I can’t resist a little anecdote on eschatology. I am no stranger to what I consider to be over emphasis on end times things. My mother, a lay preacher of the Wesleyan tradition and an independent business woman for 50 years had a sister who was heavily influenced by the end-times literature and ‘thinkers’ of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. In her later years, Mother was a great fan of writings about heaven, but less so of eschatology. She and her sister lived together for some 10 years before Mother’s death, and, like many siblings, they did not always see things the same way – to say the least.

    One fine day, these sisters were enjoying a pie brought to them by an old family friend who is justly famous for her coconut cream pies. The three of them were well into their afternoon dessert, tea and conversation, but the discussion was dominated by my aunt’s insistent presentation of and speculation about the latest news as interpreted by LaHaye or someone like him. As our elderly family friend tells it, Mother, frustrated by seemingly endless harangues of a similar nature, finally sat back from her tea saying – “well, sister, that may well all be so, and the Lord may be well be coming back today. But I surely hope he doesn’t come before I finish this piece of pie!”

  • Yes, RJS it is a minority view, a position that you should be well aware of regarding your own evolutionary views and how that impacts your understanding of Genesis. Welcome to the modern minority field of biblical exploration.

  • Bev,

    I love that story you just told. It also gets to the root of how I try to approach these issues. My wife and I hardly ever discuss eschatology because that’s not her interest. She spends her time studying Jesus and counseling women in marriage crisis in the church. Which ministry do you think I value more highly: hers or mine? There is no contest as my wife’s ministry far surpasses my theological endeavors. Her gifts of ministry are where religion meets reality while mine is about pushing for subtle cultural changes over time.

    I also serve as an adult bible class teacher and as an elder in a fairly large congregation and I don’t teach on these subjects because it would be divisive and not edifying for the congregation in those environments. I only talk about these issues with likeminded people in conferences and on blogs where we gather to investigate subjects that aren’t ready for Sunday school prime time.

  • Bev,

    By the way, regarding preterism. It is an extremly diverse movement and I simply don’t endorse many Preterist approaches and offshoots. They are not any different than any other religious group as they are made up of individuals from all spectrums of perspectives and backgrounds. When I imply Preterism I’m talking about how to study the hermenutics of scripture and how it was relevent to the origin of the church and how that may have ramifications for how we in the church today understand some of those concepts. Ultimately though it’s all about how now should we live.

  • EricG


    So I’ve now downloaded and read the parts of Oord’s book that might have bearing on the question I’m posing (as well as his article explaining why traditional open theism that allows for coercion by God doesn’t provide an answer to evil; the stuff he says in that article is fine with me). I must say I don’t think his writings really help with the question I am posing.

    As I understand his basic message, it is that God’s authority is non-coercive and self-emptying, and works hand-in-hand with his creatures. He claims that this was the case not only on the cross but also consistently throughout time — in the act of creation, today, and in the eschaton.

    It doesn’t really directly address my question — why would God use death and pain to create via TE? He doesn’t address it expressly (and he doesn’t even address the more general theodicy question very well, IMO). Simply saying God doesn’t act coercively doesn’t say anything about why God needed to create in this painful way. I realize that some things are a mystery, but then there are also some answers that are a leap too far. Maybe there is something there for someone else to flesh out, but it isn’t apparent to me.

    Beyond this problem, Oord’s proposal also suffers from being very, very non-specific: if God’s role is not coercive, precisely how did he create? How does he intervene today? What will his role be in bringing about the eschaton (which apparently isn’t even guaranteed in Oord’s view since God doesn’t act coercively, although even here Oord is quite vague)? He makes very vague responses to these questions in the end, but one is left wondering what he is really saying, and what his proposal has to do with the traditional Christian view of God as Creator, Sustainer and eventual Judge and Redeemer. All of those traditional roles for God seem much more active than Oord would allow for.

  • CGC

    Hi Eric G,
    I have little time to respond but just a quick note:
    1. Another TE dealing with theodicy is John Polkinghorne (“science & providence” and his “Questions of truth”).

    2. You might also look at: (oct 27, 2007 #10:theodicy, a new approach).


  • Bev Mitchell


    Versions of your good question “Why would God use death and pain to create via TE? ” can of course be asked without any reference whatever to evolution. One basic biology example is:
    “Why would God allow his creation to be so resource limited that organisms have to be recycled to keep life going? ”

    I realize that Oord does not address your question directly. As you say, who is?  Oord, along with other open theists such as Sanders, Boyd and Polkinghorne do provide useful perspectives to get us thinking about modifying our view of God as operating unopposed and rendering certain everything that occurs. Since I think getting some distance away from the classical Platonic-Augustinian view of God is a necessary first step, I simply recommend considering what these authors have to say in this regard. 

    Elaborating a creation theology that also makes sense biologically is quite another matter. Like you, I am not satisfied with my attempts to do this. However, one good way to proceed is to try to put something into words from the open theology perspective. I’m not too worried about not having all the answers, in fact, I’m quite used to it.  🙂