Creation Groans; But Why? (RJS)

Creation Groans; But Why? (RJS) October 30, 2012

One of the passages that comes into play in the discussion of modern science and the Christian faith is Romans 8, especially verses 19-22. Certainly Romans 8 provides another reflection on Genesis 3 and the consequence of the Fall.  Or so many think.

In Genesis 3 we read:

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3: 17-19)

In Romans 8 we read:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  (Romans 8:18-22)

This passage in Romans 8 casts a powerful, poetic, image. The whole earth is in anticipation, NT Wright says “on tiptoes with excitement” awaiting the coming renewal and the coming glory of the children of God. Surely the reference is back to the curse of Genesis 3! Right?

Not so fast. Is it really clear that the reference is back to Genesis 3?

Most of the commentaries on Romans 8 I’ve looked at trace the reference back to Genesis 3. This includes John Stott, F.F. Bruce, and N.T. Wright, scholars for whom I have a great deal of respect. So I put forth my thoughts with a bit of caution, but it seems unlikely to me that Paul’s thought was fixed on Genesis 3 as the source of his reflection on creation in Romans 8. Rather, it seems more likely that his primary source was the prophets and the whole of Israel’s story. Images of the earth groaning because of the sins of Israel are common in the prophets.

I was reading Jeremiah this week (or more accurately listening to Jeremiah). The echoes of much of what I heard in Jeremiah reminded me of Paul’s writing in Romans, and of this passage in Romans 8 in particular. As an example, in Jeremiah 4 we find:

I looked at the earth,  and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone. I looked at the mountains, and they were quaking; all the hills were swaying. I looked, and there were no people; every bird in the sky had flown away. I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert; all its towns lay in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

This is what the Lord says:

“The whole land will be ruined, though I will not destroy it completely. Therefore the earth will mourn and the heavens above grow dark, because I have spoken and will not relent,  I have decided and will not turn back.”

I hear a cry as of a woman in labor,  a groan as of one bearing her first child—the cry of Daughter Zion gasping for breath,  stretching out her hands and saying, “Alas! I am fainting;  my life is given over to murderers.” (Jeremiah 4:23-31)

In fact, the image of a woman in labor applied to land, to nations, and to rulers is a common image in the book of Jeremiah (6:24, 13:21, 22:23, 30:6, 48:41, 49:22,24, 50:43).

Some have suggested that the curse upon the earth in Genesis 3 completely changed the nature of the world, resulting in volcanoes among other things – the geysers at Yellowstone are in an ancient caldera (image above).  But this does not seem consistent with either the text we have or with the world we see. The “fall” did not change the laws of physics. The curse did not result in earthquakes, tornadoes or volcanoes; carnivorous animals, or parasites. The curse on the earth in Genesis related to a broken relationship between man as image of God with dominion over God’s good creation and creation itself. Adam and his descendents will have to till an uncooperative soil and separate the good crop from weeds – from thorns and thistles.

Jeremiah 4 cast a far darker image of creation that arises from the deep covenant unfaithfulness of Israel. First and foremost the plight of the earth is a result of the failure of Israel to love the Lord their God and worship no other gods. It is also a result of their failure to care for the poor and hurting, their failure to reflect the love of God to others – which stems from their failure to love God and follow his commandments. These themes appear over and over. Not just in Jeremiah, but throughout the prophets.

In the imagery of the prophets there is a curse on the earth. But this curse is not the result of Adam. It also is not a change in the physical nature of the world.  It does not reflect some cosmic change in the laws of physics worked by God in response to sin. In a figurative and physical sense, the earth groans result of the covenant unfaithfulness of Israel. Romans 8 turns this dark image around to an eager expectation of the renewal that comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, according to Scripture, and  thereby through the renewed children of God, transformed by the working of the grace of God.

I don’t put any of this forward as a final answer – but think it is a topic worth some thought and discussion.

What do you think is the reference behind Romans 8? Why?

Where does the image Paul is presenting come from and where is he taking his reader with the image?

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  • scotmcknight

    RJS, the theme of cosmic redemption is not all that common in the ancient world; nor is cosmic disturbance here defined by Paul. And Revelation ought to help us…

    … one idea that often grabs me when I read Romans 8 is that “creation” might be more related to the “inhabited creation” (humans, all humans) instead of the earth and universe etc.. Now I realize this kicks against the goads, but it is reasonable.

    Having said that, if the redemption here is the cosmos as found anew in the new heavens and new earth, then it is a cosmic redemption. Genesis 3 does not speak of cosmic disturbance… so the groaning texts of the prophets are reasonable passages.

  • RJS, this is a fascinating idea. This seems highly plausible to me (but then so did the idea that the Tigers would win the series. 😉 ) Have you come across scholars who embrace this view?

    I see at least two camps for whom this interpretation presents a challenge. Obviously, those who hold the traditional creation, fall, redemption, and consummation narrative, with a corrupted old world being totally discarded in favor of something completely discontinuous will be challenged.

    But I also wonder about broad swathes of Christian environmentalists. The creation restoration movement with the idea that God created the world and brought it to some stasis, and that human sin has brought imbalance to this stasis, and now our mission is to work for its restoration back to balance, until God brings it all into balance, is called into question as well. I’m not saying this undercuts all biblical justification for caring for the environment but it does call into question the creation restoration narrative as it is often used.

  • “… so the groaning texts of the prophets are reasonable passages.”

    Chalk that up as one scholar who sees plausibility. 😉

  • Jon

    Why does it have to be one or the another? Could it not be both?

  • Rick

    I see a “Sailhammer” aspect to this, and like it. The “land” (usually the Promised Land) is the focus, not the overall earth. Gen 3 and Rom 8 may be just addressing the “land”.

  • RJS


    I don’t think it has to be one or the other. I think Paul was well versed in Scripture – from Genesis through the prophets and can refer to multiple passages at once as he constructs an image. But I usually hear the reference explained as to Genesis 3, not to the prophets. This onesidedness seems to be a distortion.

  • mmesachi

    Thank you for the post! I’ve always had a hard time accepting that earthquakes and tsunamis and other nature’s activities are the results of the curse in Gen. 3, because I’m sure these activities were occurring even way before humans were created. That’s how we got the current formation of the continents on the earth’s surface as well as mountains and lakes, etc., isn’t it?

    My husband teaches an undergraduate course called “Natural Disasters” at the U of Chi. He once mentioned to me that natural disasters are called “natural disasters” only when they affect people’s lives negatively. He said if the same natural phenomenon occurred where there was no human being, we wouldn’t call it a disaster.

    Now I can see some natural disasters could have been caused by human activities and maybe we can call it the results of our sin, but more in a way of a broken relationship between man and creation itself, like you said, than in a way of the results of the “fall.”

    Well, I don’t have any conclusion here, but I was glad to see you point out that “the ‘fall’ did not change the laws of physics. The curse did not result in earthquakes, tornadoes or volcanoes; carnivorous animals, or parasites”, because no one else seemed to have said that before.

  • E.G.

    Michael #2: could you expand on your creation care point? I’m not following how this particular interpretation changes anything. Christian environmentalists base much of their practical theology on Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, etc.

  • Jeff Y

    RJS – I think you raise a very significant question. I have been wrestling with this for some time. You also raise a very good point about the prophets. But, perhaps I’m not following very well here, while I concur that Adam’s sin did not create all the disasters in the world, it seems you are saying that Israel is to blame? “In a figurative and physical sense, the earth groans *result of* the covenant unfaithfulness of Israel.” But, aren’t the earth groans tied, in part, to physical suffering (which would include disasters; animal suffering; etc.)?

    It also seems to me that for Paul, Adam (whether literal or not – another question altogether) really is the progenitor and prototype of Israel (Rom. 7). So both are the same. Romans 8 speaks of subjugating the whole of creation to frustration (I’m also reminded of Ecclesiastes & the rest of the OT literature of dissent). I would think, along with the prophets, this would include natural disasters (Israel’s sins certainly seem to lead to such calamities quite often). But I am not sure that it requires that disaster come after the fact of some literal sin by Adam. It could be a result of evil in general (that God allows and that God defeats in Christ). But an evil that Adam & Israel and all of us continue to participate in – & contribute to? – when we sin. In the new heavens and new earth, the new creation of God, I don’t think we’ll face either frustration or disasters. So a change will take place. Disasters & death are useful for causing us to turn to God (perhaps a kind of discipline set in place to make us long for something more). But, as with so much else, discipline can be attributed to both God and Satan simultaneously (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Satan uses for evil; God turns it for good. This is a deeper discussion of good and evil that I suspect we’ll never fully solve or comprehend, of course.

  • #8 E.G.

    Let me contrast a couple of narratives. First, take the interpretation of what RJS is proposing here. We can look at Israel and see things like refusing to the let the land lie fallow and abusing livestock. Natural resources are abused and the created order suffers for it. Israel’s rebellion causes creation to suffer and it needs liberation. From there, I think you can make a case for environmental stewardship, saying this sense of stewardship now extends beyond Israel to the whole.

    Second, in my denomination (PCUSA) we have a document that guides our environmental policy called “Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice.” Which begs the question: “Restore” it to what? “Restore” implies that there was some platonic state of nature from which we “fell” and thus we must “restore.” But there never was any such perfect state of nature to fall from. God formed the earth 4.5 billion years ago. At which point in the past is our marker for restoration? 2,000 years ago? 20,000? 2,000,000? How about the age of the dinosaurs? How about pre-life?

    Added to this is the false sense that the environment is one giant equilibrium system. So the framing becomes one that we imbalanced the equilibrium and must restore it to some platonic state of equilibrium.

    I’m suggesting that the first scenario is probably more faithful to Scripture than the second. We are tenants in the land. We work it and creatively use it make things more humanly useful, but all with an eye toward harmonious existence with nature. That seems different to me from “restoration.”

    Does that make sense?

  • phil_style

    @ Michael “Which begs the question: “Restore” it to what? “Restore” implies that there was some platonic state of nature from which we “fell” and thus we must “restore.” But there never was any such perfect state of nature to fall from. God formed the earth 4.5 billion years ago. At which point in the past is our marker for restoration? 2,000 years ago? 20,000? 2,000,000? How about the age of the dinosaurs? How about pre-life”

    Great questions. This is why, in the practical world of environmental management (in which I work) some of the more zealous philosophical underpinnings of previous environmental movements have been, in some sense, rejected.

    We generally work towards certain environmental goals, with at the end of it, generally one principle in mind – biodiversity.
    Most “environmental” action can be traced towards the end goal of enhancing biodiversity. The reasons for this are multiple, but once you think about it, the more diverse species there are about, the higher the quality of the environment (water, air, soils, noise, lighting) there is almost certain to be, all of which are also important for human flourishing.

    So, we don’t look to “restore” anything, necessarily. We work toward a goal that tries to achieve the best possible outcome (greatest biodiversity) within the constraints of time and space.

  • phil_style

    Further to comment 11,

    The focus on “biodiversity” does, for me, tick theological boxes too.

    It makes us responsible for the creative diversity of God. Every species lost (particularly those losses we could have avoided) is an element of God’s creative purpose that has been destroyed under our watch.

  • Norman

    Paul’s usage of a groaning creation is redemption language regarding Adam’s fall and is not meant to be literalized. The birth pangs that was prophesized for Eve the mother of all the living is coming forth with the establishment of the Spiritual Kingdom of Christ while the old covenant Kingdom goes kicking and screaming away. These examples are metaphorical and poetic usages that flow consistently throughout the OT and are fulfilled in the NT.

    Paul springs forth this example in Romans 8 just as he has finished his discourse upon the futility of the Law that originated with the commandment that was given and broken by Adam. That is the groaning Creation seeking renewal.

    The bible constantly uses cosmic language metaphorically to describe the major players in the scriptures. The Sea (waters) represents the gentile world at large while the land represents the formation of YWHW ‘s chosen people who rise up out of the Sea. The cosmic language of Heavens and Earth represent the Land inhabitants (God fearers/Israel) who are to be transformed as Heaven meets Earth (receives the Heavenly Spirit of God). This was fulfilled through Christ. In Rev 21 the New Heavens and Earth sees the dissolving of the Sea representing the Gentiles who no longer reside outside the dividing wall of hostility.

    Rev 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth did pass away, and the sea is not anymore;

    Learning the cosmic language metaphorical/poetic usage allows us to get to the bottom of the discussion. The example of Jer 4 is a great one to illustrate the application of this language to the exasperation God had with His people who were not coming up to His standards. It is especially significant to recognize that contrary to the word “peoples” that RJS’s translation used that the word is actually aw-dawm which is simply “adam” and means the people of covenant creation/faith and not people at large which would use the Hebrew term “ish”. There was no faithful man/people of God and therefore it takes us back to the beginning of creation in Gen 1 & 2 that describes the condition of humanity before the establishment of the faithful ones. Light created out of darkness and land raised up out of the cosmic sea (waters) of Peoples.
    Jer 4: 23 I looked [to] the land, and lo, waste and void, And unto the heavens, and their light is not. I have looked [to] the mountains, And lo, they are trembling. And all the hills moved themselves lightly. I have looked, and lo, man (adam) is not, And all fowls of the heavens have fled. I have looked, and lo, The fruitful place [is] a wilderness,

    Adamites (Israel) were not living up to their calling as God’s people leaving a wilderness void.

  • D. Ragan Ewing

    Scot- Interesting insight here, but I can’t help but think this may be a false dichotomy. First, isn’t Israel’s exile and desolation a recapitulation of the original exile from Eden, and therefore a broadened expression of the original curse? I.e., Abraham’s people are to be the new humanity, succeeding where Adam failed, but now have repeated his apostasy, only to be corrected by the new “Adam/Israel” par excellence, Jesus? Also, contextually, the framing of Romans 8 with Romans 5, which is all about Adam’s transgression seems to tie these passages more closely than you’ve implied here. Lastly, I’d note that some of the types of passages you’re talking about in the prophets seem to be using Edenic curse language as descriptive/symptomatic of Israel’s plight and redemption, correlating one as the outworking of the other–e.g., Isa 55, with reference to the New Exodus (and covenant): “Instead of the horn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

  • In Jeremiah 4 the coming desolation of the land of Judah is presented in part literally: “the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins” (4:26); but also symbolically as a return to a state of primordial chaos: “I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light” (4:23); and anthropomorphically: “the earth shall mourn” (4:28).

    Isaiah 24:3 LXX is also relevant: because of the sin of Israel the “land shall be corrupted with corruption, and the land shall be spoiled with spoiling”.

    The positive corollary to this is that when God renews his people, the wilderness of Zion will be made like Eden, her desert like the “garden of the Lord” (Is. 51:3).

    I would agree that Paul gets his language not from Genesis 3 but from the prophets—and I think he has Israel in view more often than we realize. However, whereas the prophets use creational language to speak of the corruption and restoration of Israel, Paul has to take account of a novel development—the resurrection of Jesus. His creation, therefore, looks forward not to the renewal of God’s people only but to the same liberation from a physical bondage to corruption and decay that Jesus experienced and the “sons of God” would experience.

  • Norman

    I would mostly agree with Andrew to a large extent as Adam/Israel in my mind is essentially synonymous as Paul demonstrates in Romans 5-8. However it is unmistakable also in my mind that it’s referencing Gen 1, 2 and 3 as well. It’s essentially the same story as these chapters are written as a microcosm of Israel’s origins and futile existence. We also see this same theme brought to bear in Ezekiel 36 in which the prophecy of the coming new Kingdom of the indwelling spirit is promised through the Messiah to Israel. I think Ezekiel 36 confirms the tie in with Genesis 1, 2 and 3.

    Eze 36:33 “Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. 34 And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. 35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the GARDEN OF EDEN, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’

    The bottom line I believe is that Genesis is really a product of the same times of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and may have been produced by the same scribes, priest and prophets who penned much of the prophetic books. That is why they use the same kind of language back and forth between their writings.
    I also think that resurrection language during the coming of messiah is clearly portrayed throughout the OT; namely Isaiah 25:7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. HE WILL SWALLOW UP DEATH FOREVER; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

    Paul put all of this together once Christ burned it into his mind. 🙂 and everything clicked systematically for him as he came to comprehend the overcoming of physical death with the gift of eternal life as demonstrated through Christ resurrection.

  • Creation surely is groaning, it’s quite evident with hurricane Sandy in mind. However, climate change was not discussed in the presidential debates at all, and Romney the Mormon has clearly stated that he doesn’t want “to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet.” A Christian cannot accept that:

  • Phil #11, #12

    Agreed. For me, the “restore” language clouds, not clarifies. Thinking in terms of holistic flourishing that incorporates human creativity and the flourishing of nature is what I think is needed.

  • Norman

    Michael #17,

    Your approach is a classic example of overusing/reading into the biblical story line. We can take this kind of literature and turn it into what ever fits our political or worldview ideas while it has nothing remotely to do with physical earth issues: except to be used metaphorically.

  • E.G.

    Michael #10 and 18: Thanks…

    I would suggest not being too “clouded” by the word “restore.” The creation narrative (however you want to take it), plus personal experience and observation, plus the prophets, plus Jesus and Paul, plus eschatology (generally amil. or postmil.) tells us that whatever the original intent, we are far from it.

    Hosea 4:1-3 and Colossians 1, plus Psalm 104, are a good study in combination.

    Our actions cause damage.

    God loves and cares for all of creation.

    We, as His image-bearers are to image Him and do the same.

    Christ, as the ultimate image bearer has worked and is working and will work to redeem all of creation.

    Until then, we are called (in our own halting and often wrong way) to image His sacrifice by caring.

    Care of creation extends to God in worship and to others in love. Non-care shows contempt for God’s work and damages and harms others. This is, frankly, the Jesus Creed writ large.

    So, “restore”… we are called to partner with our Lord. He has restored our relationship with Him by his death and resurrection. We, being restored, ought also to seek to restore all relationships within our personal reach with Him working through us.

    No, we won’t “restore” every damaged wetland or every polluted stream. Neither will our medical intervention (a form of creation care too!) ever restore every cancer patient or a stillborn child. But, in a holistic sense, our care of ALL of creation might reduce cancer and stillbirths, etc.

    And we know from Revelation 21-22 that someday all will be restored.

    Hmmmm… frankly more of this boils down to eschatology than to origins.

    Anyhow, thanks for your thoughts. They do prod my thoughts as well.

  • Craig Wright

    RJS, I appreciate this approach to Rom. 8:20-23. I grew up hearing it related only to Gen. 3, which led to weird speculations, such as lions being originally vegetarians, and the fermentation process in the production of wine being due to the curse. Yet, Ps. 104, describing creation, says that (v.15) “wine makes the heart glad,” and (v.21) “the young lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God.”

  • Bev Mitchell

    Interesting post and interesting diversity of comments. What else can be expected on this one? The tack I would like to take may lead us into rough waters, but here goes.


    Considering Romans 8, and with respect to the ongoing process of creation, this “groaning in the pains of childbirth” (vs. 22), there is a strengthening line of thinking that creation is being carried on against serious opposition, and that this opposition is in the spiritual realm. This view helps us understand Paul’s words “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

    Then come the famous verses (22-23) comparing the plight of creation with our own as we both await redemption. Spiritual struggle, spiritual resistance to God’s will, is written all over Paul’s comparison of the situation we share with creation itself. Fortunately, Paul gets much more positive in the next verses and, by verse 31, he is well wound up for the great conclusion that “we are more than conquerors” (vs. 37) and he ties his confidence for this statement to the resurrection of Christ (vs. 34).

    The idea of creation being a monumental struggle by God against chaos, purposelessness, emptiness etc. can be developed from the OT alone, as beautifully shown by Jon Levenson in his “Creation and the Persistence of Evil.” See my comment (#12) on Scot’s post “Evolution and Evil/Morality” yesterday.

    All Scripture quotes from NIV (2011).

  • BradK

    Scot, you should prepare to be taken to task by Jeff Doles regarding your view that Romans 8 could refer to all humanity. We went down this path in the comments for one of RJS’s previous posts on a similar topic. 😉

  • Percival

    Why does creation groan? Birth pangs is the image. The passage RJS explores in Rom 8 reminded me of other verses from Galatians. Both of these Pauline passages speak of the present time/fullness of time that mark liberation from bondage and the appearance of the children of God. If these two passages are talking about the same thing, it would seem to support RJS’s thoughts that Rom 8 is not talking about Genesis.

    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:18-22)

    Galatians 4:3 So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental principles of the world. 4:4But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law, 4:5that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of children.

  • RJS

    Andrew (#15)

    Thanks. The reference in Isaiah is another important one. An e-mail this morning pointed to me to this piece by Meredith Kline (scroll down to The Veil Removed). He interprets Romans 8 in terms of Isaiah and calls Romans 8 “misunderstood.”

    Romans 8 connects more with the prophets than with Genesis 3, although an argument can be made for Genesis 3 in the mix along with the prophets.

  • Norman

    If the bondage of creation was to the commandment/law as Paul prefaces in the chapters preceding Romans 8 then the relief from that bondage would occur when the Law was confirmed dead. This is indicated through the sign of the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple and killing of the priest and burning of the genealogical rolls through the vindication of Christ as outlined in Matt 23-25 and other accounts.

    Heb 8:13 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 9:8 8 the Holy Spirit this signifying, that the way into the holy place hath not yet been made manifest, while the first tabernacle is yet standing; which is a figure for the time present

    I will reiterate that groaning of creation is all about relief from bondage to death (separation from God) and we are not in a state of groaning anymore since the consummated removal of the old covenant and the full establishment of the new covenant. The literature was written to the first century Christian concerning their New Exodus journey until the fulfillment of the prophecies of Christ had occurred.

    If you are a child of God then you have entered the full expectation that the first Christians were striving toward. To continue that groaning for 2000 years and counting is to abolish the fulfilled work of Christ and to leave it as incomplete. Revelation 21& 22 is not about an incomplete process but instead was about to occur in these folks immediate future.

    Rev 22: And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for THE TIME IS NEAR…. ”12 “Behold, I AM COMING SOON, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.

    Soon does not mean 2000 years and counting.

  • Seems to me the Genesis 3 curse was revoked in Genesis 8:21 – “”…Never again will I curse the ground because of man…”

  • RJS #15

    Thanks for the link to Kline’s article. I haven’t really read it carefully enough, but I think I would go along with a lot of it. I like the emphasis on the martyr theme. I argued in a recent book on Romans that Romans 8 presents a martyr theology—in fact, the whole Letter rests on a martyr theology in effect. I see the revelation of the sons of God as the vindication of the martyrs of the early church at a historical parousia. But it seems to me that Paul, taking Isaiah a step further, is saying that a personified creation looks forward to this impending revelation of the victory of the creator over corruption because it will be evidence for its own eventual transformation.

  • ao

    Excellent post, RJS! And great discussion, too.

    Others’ comments have already hinted towards this, but I’ve heard some argue that the earth being “subjected to futility” is referring to the opening verses of Genesis, in which the earth is “formless and void”. You pointed out how Jeremiah uses the same phrase, like he’s telling Israel that they’re unfaithfulness has led to a de-creation on par with what the earth was like before God did something about it.

    I’ve noticed that authors who want to construct Biblical theodicies that are consistent with the theory of evolution sometimes offer Gen. 1:2 as Paul’s referent in Rom. 8. In “God at War”, for example, Greg Boyd argues that, in Genesis 1-3, the creation was subjected to futility, and the cosmos had evil de-creation forces in it, long before Adam sinned.

    Regardless, I hope you can turn this idea into a paper and get it published in a scholarly journal. It’s a great contribution to the dialogue! =)

  • TJR

    Scot #1, I wasn’t sure about who or what this “creation” meant so I checked Cranfield. He gives eight possible views including all mankind, unbelievers, believers, angels, and sub-human nature. He rejects believers because they are contrasted with creation in v.23. The all humans view is problematic if believers are not included. Also “not by its own choice” in v.20 would rule out all humans because Adam would be included and this would rule out the not by choice idea.

    This is just the first book I’ve looked at. Cranfield seem to make sense yet my views may change, however, by the time I’ve done more research this post will be past its time.

  • Stephen Hesed

    On multiple occasions I’ve heard biblical scholars link Romans 8:20 with Ecclesiastes 1-2. The word translated as “frustration” or “futility” is the same word the Septuagint uses for the word commonly translated as “vanity” in Ecclesiastes.

  • “The “fall” did not change the laws of physics. The curse did not result in earthquakes, tornadoes or volcanoes; carnivorous animals, or parasites. The curse on the earth in Genesis related to a broken relationship between man as image of God with dominion over God’s good creation and creation itself. Adam and his descendents will have to till an uncooperative soil and separate the good crop from weeds – from thorns and thistles.”

    This seems contradictory to me. If the curse of the fall did not change the laws of physics, then how did it change the ground from cooperative to uncooperative? If it did not result in carnivorous animals and parasites, then how does it account for thorns and thistles?

    Also, isn’t it likely that the prophets had in mind Genesis 3 when they were writing? If that’s the case, have we done anything except establish a chain of references – Paul was referencing Jeremiah, who was referencing Genesis? I don’t see how that changes the theological ground.

  • RJS


    I think that Jeremiah is describing a decreation of the original creation of Genesis 1 as someone else noted above. But this decreation is a result of the covenant unfaithfulness of Israel There is nothing of the curse of Genesis 3 here from Jeremiah.


    John Stott makes this connection between Romans 8 and Ecclesiastes I know. I don’t have the commentary here to see how it played out in his thinking though.

  • I agree with RJS – As a first century Jew, Paul was most likely getting his imagery out of his Scriptures. To me the Prophets are a very good place to expect to find his reference, because they frequently prophesy about the final redemption by God.

  • Norman

    Again I say that the scriptures over and over again reference Genesis 3 in a similar manner that Paul does in Romans 8 regarding the birth of the church from futility described as pain in Birthing. Revelation 12 illustrates this by using the woman (Eve) motif from Gen 3 to tie into the prophecy of pain in childbirth in the deliverance of the “living” called the church. True Israel was that woman who Paul is alluding to in Romans 7 whose husband died allowing her to remarry the better husband Christ.

    Here is that picture painted by John in Rev and taken from Gen 3 of the woman Israel bringing forth the redemptive child/children in pain. If we understand the continuity of the scriptures then sections like Genesis become so much clearer when we realize the literatures intended purpose by its authors.

    Rev 12:1-2 And a great sign was seen in heaven: a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and SHE CRIETH OUT, TRAVAILING IN BIRTH, AND IN PAIN TO BE DELIVERED.

    It’s the same concept in Rom 8 but we literalize it so that it becomes unfathomable to us and we go off chasing multiple rabbit trails that are simply not in the picture. One of the most difficult things Christian students of the word have before us is to not jump to literal conclusions regarding biblical metaphors. But most peoples rule is if we don’t understand it we read it literally, yet this approach most often butchers the Hebrew method of telling story.

    Notice the similar approach of Rev 12 and Rom 8 regarding the birth of the church.

    Rom 8:19-22 For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the WHOLE CREATION GROANETH AND TRAVAILETH IN PAIN TOGETHER UNTIL NOW.

    Jeremiah 4 and Rom 8 both pull from Genesis in multiple ways. We see the waste and void description of the conditions before God found his first faithful man/adam. It was waste and void and without light and in the detailed account beginning in Gen 2 it was a desert land without rain and with no man to work the ground just like the conditions of Jeremiah 4 is described. Adam is Israel so it’s essentially the same story.

    Gen 1:2 And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep:

    Gen 2:5 And no plant of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up; for Jehovah God had not caused it to rain upon the earth: and THERE WAS NOT A MAN TO TILL THE GROUND;

    Gen 3:16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.

    Trying to minimize the curse of Adam from Rom 8 just doesn’t make much sense. The curse of Adam was Israel’s curse as is laid out so eloquently in Romans. Even Paul climbs aboard the allegory train of Genesis when he says that a profound mystery is that Gen 2:24 is about Christ and the church (Eph 5:31-32)

    It’s the same discussion we were having about Job this week where the propensity of the evangelical reader is to miss the bulk of the story line because they read it way too literally and don’t grasp the Hebrew literary genre. Again they default to the literal by instinct when confused. All of us do until we realize the mistake we are making and how it screws up the Hebrew story.

  • Excellent thought. Thanks, RJS. Worth pondering. I’m inclined to agree.

  • WBrisky

    There is another passage that should be considered, Leviticus 18:24-25 which discusses the land itself (i.e. the Promised Land) becoming polluted by sexual sin and vomiting out its inhabitants. I think all these passages have to be read together and demonstrate that man’s sin has consequences for all of creation, as well as for ourselves as we no longer live in the Garden. The Promised Land itself is, in some sense, pictured as a sort of second Garden. And the threat is that as a consequence of Israel’s sin, Israel will be ejected from this second Garden.

  • Tim Atwater

    sorry to enter this fascinating discussion late
    and on the run tonight
    but see also Leviticus 26 — the long description of what happens to the balance of creation when we ignore Torah — the Jubilee and Sabbath cycles in particular.

    W Brueggeman also has a good piece on Hosea and the enviro in Reading From This Place vol 2… which affirms RJS’s basic take, and w out discounting the Gen 3 take…
    Blessings and thanks

  • Tim Atwater

    actually it was volume 1 of Reading from this Place, ed Segovia and Tolbert
    Do appreciate this topic post and related ones, thanks RJS and Scot