This article examines how an old-earth creation view can be reconciled with the Christian scripture and doctrines. Of necessity and when appropriate scripture interpretations are contrasted against those of a young-earth creation view. Old-earth creationism is one of five primary ideologies of origins; for a detailed explanation of these ideologies please refer to Ideologies of Origins.
I do not intend to address the problems of naturalistic or theistic evolution; that needs to be the subject of another article. It is my belief that almost any formulation of evolution of species (as opposed to variation within existing species) is ruled out on several fundamental doctrinal grounds. Since we expect scripture and reality to be aligned we expect also that ongoing scientific endeavor will find an ever-increasing body of evidence undermining the theory of evolution of the species. This would constitute a testable prediction of any creation model.
That said I wish to note that it’s been my experience that the majority of believers who adhere to evolution do so on intellectual grounds, having concluded that a Biblical creationist view is irreconcilable with scientific observation. This article intends to demonstrate that this conclusion is not necessary. If you believe in evolution based only on your understanding of scientific discovery I encourage you to read on and see whether there is perhaps a better understanding of both science and scripture that does not pit the two in opposition.
My philosophical bias is that of a Bible-believing Christian who believes that the Judeo-Christian God created this space/time cosmos and the life within it ex-nihilo, that is from nothing, as described by the Christian scripture.
- Why Should I Care?
- Limitations of Hebrew
- It’s All in a Day’s Work
- Deceptive Creation?
- Death Before Adam’s Sin
- Restoration or Replacement
- Further Reading
Why Should I Care?
For a non-believer you perhaps don’t care. But perhaps you should, if only to better understand where your believing friend or acquaintance is coming from. Furthermore, what if the Christian world-view can be shown to be both scientifically and intellectually sound? What if science and theology are not diametrically opposed after all but can be shown to be complimentary to one another? What if what we can discover of God in the Bible is harmonious with what we can discover of him by observing his creation? What then? Should you not then give it due consideration instead of simply accepting by faith what its opponents have told you?
For a believer there are different theological and philosophical implications arising from these world-views. You may need to reevaluate some strongly held convictions about what the Bible teaches which you have held dear to your heart for many years. You may need to accept that you were taught some things by people who themselves were deeply emotionally attached to these ideas which they thought were important distinctives for Christianity – ideas that are perhaps not as important as you have been led to believe.
It has to be accepted that young-earth creationism (YEC) is inherently antagonistic toward the scientific community. If in fact YEC is correct then that’s the way it has to be… but if YEC is not correct then that antagonism is creating barriers and pushing people away from the truth of the gospel. If YEC represents a misinterpretation of scripture then a lot of damage is being done to the testimony of the Christian church for a significant proportion of developed societies for no better reason than dogmatic adherence to a misguided philosophy. If we consider that the only truth we can know is divinely revealed truth then ultimately we revert to gnosticism – the philosophy that the “real” truth is revealed only to a select few and the masses labor under a deception. Scripture teaches the converse – truth is revealed to all people each of whom choose to accept or reject that revelation.
Furthermore if YEC is not the correct understanding of scripture then many Christians are laboring under an unnecessary tension between their faith and their intellect. It is my contention that Christian faith is a faith based on truth not a blind adherence to ideas contrary to observable, testable reality. If we cannot consider that which we observe to be in fact reality then we cannot know anything and all religion and philosophy becomes rooted in agnosticism.
For the believer the meaning of Romans 1 and Psalms 19 and similar scriptures need to be reconciled with our belief system in a way that is genuine and consistent. Surely when the Bible speaks of mankind knowing God from his creation it must mean not only the wonderment of a broad look but also what occurs when we examine what has been created in detail? Not only the awe inspiring grand vista of a mountain range but the staggering wonder of a functioning cell, or of a star going super-nova ten billion years ago and emitting light a million times brighter than its entire galaxy combined.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Romans 1:19-23 (ESV; emphasis mine)
1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4 (ESV)
Ask yourself this: can and would God make such strong assertions if creation is preloaded with deliberately deceptive artifacts of a history that never occurred?
Limitations of Hebrew
Of particular importance to understanding the creation narratives is the fact that ancient Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament scripture, is significantly more limited than English in the number of words available. Thus one word often has multiple meanings and the intended meaning in a given context must be derived from the context and other information.
The vocabulary of the Hebrew language as known to us is quite small, and there is also a dearth of grammatical forms, especially when comparison is made in this twofold respect with the marvelous richness of the sister Semitic tongue, Arabic.
There is an abundance of Hebrew terms to express the things that belong to everyday life-domestic animals and utensils, phenomena and actions that are of common occurrence, ordinary social relations, etc., and in particular to express the acts and objects pertaining to religious life and worship. But the Hebrew vocabulary is notably wanting when considered from the philosophical and psychological standpoint, there being few terms for the expression of abstract ideas or the sentiments of the soul.
Hebrew Language and Literature – New Advent
While English has some 150,000+ words in common usage and some 4,000,000 words in total, the Hebrew language is limited to less than 10,000 words derived from about 2,500 unique roots.
English boasts one of the richest vocabularies in the world. It gives those who speak and write the language an ability to make very fine distinctions. The Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines approximately 160,000 English words. Ancient Hebrew, by contrast, has a very small vocabulary. In fact, the entire OT was written using only 8,674 Hebrew (and Aramaic) words, and these words are formed from only 2,552 unique root words. Due to the disparity, Hebrew terms are typically far broader and less specific than their English counterparts. Each Hebrew word can, on average, be translated into several possible English words depending on context.
Historic Age Debate: Dependence on Translations, Part 2 (of 5) – Reasons to Believe
Although it is not immediately obvious to an English reader of scripture allowance must be made for the comparative dearth of words available in the language in which the Old Testament scripture was recorded. Thus, when the English speaking reader talks of scripture meaning “what it plainly says”, it must be remembered that things written in Hebrew are not nearly so “plain” as we might like them to be. In fact, perhaps God deliberately chose such a language as Hebrew, with all it’s ambiguity and breadth of meaning, precisely so that the words of scripture could impart truth to all generations from the time it was written to now, and on into the future.
Therefore it must be stressed that old-age creation is indeed founded on a literal interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures. However the literal interpretation must be consistent with the totality of the evidence available, both within the Bible and without, and so scripture may not mean what seems obvious at first glance from reading an English translation with a modern, western worldview. No-one is being asked to accept a distorted interpretation of scripture but, rather, a more considered one.
All in a Day’s Work
Often the charge levied from the YEC camp is that if Moses meant “age” or “epoch” why didn’t he use the Hebrew word for “age” or “epoch”. Well the fact is that he did. The key to the puzzle is that the Hebrew word for “age” or “epoch” is the same word as the Hebrew word for “day”. You see the Hebrew word Yôm, as used in scripture, has three different literal definitions:
- Any part of the daylight hours, or
- a twenty four hour period, or
- any finite period of time.
The church has historically been undecided on whether or not the Genesis account referred to twenty four hour periods – several of the early church fathers questioned why it took God so long and argued that the use of “days” in the narrative was only a linguistic tool, with the actual creation being instantaneous. Be that as it may and given the broad connotations of word Yôm even if this were not the case it is neither inconsistent nor disingenuous of the church, though it had understood for 2000 years the Genesis days to be twenty four hours, to re-evaluate that understanding in the light of observational evidence that becomes available in the 20th century, realizing that in fact the last sense must be what was meant after all.
The same is true of the phrase, “And there was evening, and there was morning”. Not only does this seem to be idiomatic Hebrew connoting an progression from something less ordered to something more ordered, but the underlying words for evening and morning connote “hiding” and “revealing”, respectively. And have you ever wondered that the phrase actually does not include the daylight hours?
Hebrew scholar and physicist Gerald Schroeder in his Book Genesis and the Big Bang makes a compelling case that the Hebrew phrase has a deeper meaning than modern English speakers appreciate.
The Hebrew word for “evening” is erev. This is the literal meaning of the word, although the root of erev carries with it implications far beyond that of a setting Sun. What is the visual sensation for evening? Darkness begins. Objects become obscure, blurred. The root of erev means just that, “mixed up, stirred together, disorderly”.
The Hebrew for “morning” is boker. Its meaning is quite the opposite of erev. Morning brings first light. Objects, visually mingled by the dark of night, become distinct entities and this is the root meaning of boker, “discernable, able to be distinguished, orderly”.
Had the text said, “and there was morning and there was evening,” our concept of a day might have been better satisfied. The sequence would have at least included the light of the day. But had the text followed this human logic, it would have forfeited its cosmic message. […] We are being told, that within this parcel of space where mankind was to stake his first roots, there was a systematic flow from disorder – chaos or “evening” – to order or “morning”.
Genesis and the Big Bang (Chapter 6)
Looking elsewhere in the Bible Daniel 8:14 and 8:26 applies the phrase “evening and morning” to a period spanning several years, shown here with the ESV translation in italics and the interlinear Hebrew with literal English translations underneath (remember that each Hebrew text segment reads right to left):
Genesis 1:5 And there was evening and there was morning, the first day:
Daniel 8:14 And he said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings…”:
Daniel 8:26 The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true:
Notice how the English translators have pluralized in Dan 8:26, although the Hebrew uses the singular perfect form, literally “the evening and the morning” as given by the interlinear English rendering. Yet this same period is what Dan 8:14 has just defined as 2,300 solar days. This shows that the phrase can indeed refer to an arbitrary bounded time period, not exclusively a solar day. (Note that the diacritic mark in the middle of the letter bet of bqr in Daniel does not affect the meaning of the word, only its pronunciation; this is true of all words in Hebrew which start with one of bet, gimel, dalet, kaf, pe and tav.)
Notice also how the phrase in Genesis 1 is formed with “and-he-is-becoming”; there is a strong sense of a process in the construct - it seems to me as if God is intending to convey the idea that a disordered creation is becoming progressively more orderly, or perhaps an order within creation is being progressively revealed.
The phrase “There was evening and there was morning” therefore seems to describe a progression of time with a sense of increasing order. There is something hauntingly poetic in this turn of phrase, understood in this way, as God creates a dwelling place for mankind – the sense is as if creation is being portrayed as a cosmic play, starting with a darkened stage over which the lights are slowly brought up to reveal mankind as the pivotal player.
Thinking particularly about the YEC stance that we must take the Genesis creation account at “face value” it is informative to examine the events of day six. Genesis chapter two focuses on day six after a brief recapitulation of the creation events which led up to the creation of mankind:
- God makes Adam.
- God plants a garden in Eden and places Adam in it to tend it.
- God brings to Adam all of the nephesh creatures and Adam has sufficient time to interact with them to (a) name them (with the inference from Jewish culture that the naming pertains meaningfully to its character and attributes), and (b) bond with them sufficiently to realize that none of them were a suitable “helper” – that none were “flesh of [his] flesh”.
- God puts Adam into a state of deep sleep and makes Eve “from his side”.
- God presents Eve to Adam – and Adam’s response is “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”.
Now granted God could have made all of this happen super fast or in an altered space/time bubble or whatever. But the more reasonable reading is that what is described took considerably longer than twenty four hours – in the order of months or even years. I find it highly unlikely that in the space of twenty four hours Adam knew all of the nephesh creatures well enough to know they would not fulfill his need for deep companionship.
Furthermore many of the English renderings indicate that the Hebrew has an emphatic statement when Adam first sees Eve – “Finally!” or “At long last!” – it seems unlikely that after just a day of waiting (and a day when he was very busy) upon meeting Eve he would exclaim “at long last!”
Therefore it seems that the most obvious, straight-forward interpretation is to understand the events of “day” six as occurring over a much longer period of time than twenty four hours.
Now we reach an important question in all of this. Can it be that God has created in such a way as to deceive humanity or deliberately obscure the truth? This seems most implausible to me for a God who is truth and who holds his created beings accountable for how they respond to the revelation of himself in what he has created.
At this point a word of caution is warranted: It’s actually quite rare for anyone viewing evidence of any kind to be truly impartial. As human beings we have a tremendously strong bias to interpret evidence according to our preconceived ideas – and the stronger held the world-view the more it shapes our interpretation of what we behold.
One argument made to explain the apparent age of the universe is that God created light from distant stars “in transit”. YEC web site ChristianAnswers.net has published an article which incidentally outlines the philosophical problems with this idea while promoting a book which proffers an alternative to the Big-Bang Cosmology theory (note that the book being promoted, Starlight and Time, was to the best of my knowledge broadly and nearly universally discredited by experts in the field of Einsteinian Relativity. I have not read the book):
Perhaps the most commonly used explanation is that God created light “on its way,” so that Adam could see the stars immediately without having to wait years for the light from even the closest ones to reach the earth. While we should not limit the power of God, this has some rather immense difficulties.
It would mean that whenever we look at the behavior of a very distant object, what we see happening never happened at all. For instance, say we see an object a million light-years away which appears to be rotating; that is, the light we receive in our telescopes carries this information “recording” this behavior. However, according to this explanation, the light we are now receiving did not come from the star, but was created “en route,” so to speak.
This would mean that for a 10,000-year-old universe, that anything we see happening beyond about 10,000 light-years away is actually part of a gigantic picture show of things that have not actually happened, showing us objects which may not even exist.
To explain this problem further, consider an exploding star (supernova) at, say, an accurately measured 100,000 light-years away. Remember we are using this explanation in a 10,000-year-old universe. As the astronomer on earth watches this exploding star, he is not just receiving a beam of light. If that were all, then it would be no problem at all to say that God could have created a whole chain of photons (light particles/waves) already on their way.
However, what the astronomer receives is also a particular, very specific pattern of variation within the light, showing him/her the changes that one would expect to accompany such an explosion — a predictable sequence of events involving neutrinos, visible light, X-rays and gamma-rays. The light carries information recording an apparently real event. The astronomer is perfectly justified in interpreting this “message” as representing an actual reality — that there really was such an object, which exploded according to the laws of physics, brightened, emitted X-rays, dimmed, and so on, all in accord with those same physical laws.
Everything he sees is consistent with this, including the spectral patterns in the light from the star giving us a “chemical signature” of the elements contained in it. Yet the “light created en route” explanation means that this recorded message of events, transmitted through space, had to be contained within the light beam from the moment of its creation, or planted into the light beam at a later date, without ever having originated from that distant point. (If it had started from the star — assuming that there really was such a star — it would still be 90,000 light years away from earth.)
To create such a detailed series of signals in light beams reaching earth, signals which seem to have come from a series of real events but in fact did not, has no conceivable purpose. Worse, it is like saying that God created fossils in rocks to fool us, or even test our faith, and that they don’t represent anything real (a real animal or plant that lived and died in the past). This would be a strange deception.
Young Universe, Old Stars? – christiananswers.net
A strange deception indeed – all such arguments to explain away what we can clearly observe of the universe and planet which we inhabit are subject to the same philosophical problems. Why would God deceive us in this way?
Therefore all such arguments such as “he created light in transit” and “he created the fossils in place when he created the earth” are resting on very dubious philosophical foundations.
Death Before Man’s Sin
A consideration of critical importance to this issue and one that is invariably raised as an objection by YEC proponents is that of animal death before man sinned. Clearly, if God created life on earth over several billion years, animals and plants were living and dying (and going extinct) long before mankind sinned with all of its consequences – indeed long before mankind was even created. From a theological perspective this is perhaps the most important objection as it is perceived to go to the very foundation and meaning of salvation via a blood sacrifice. For the YEC supporter the very essence of the gospel is at stake. This issue is truly worthy of a thorough examination.
First, as a point of clarification, the issue seems to be that of animal death not death altogether. It follows that if animals did not die and there was no carnivorous activity then all animals were herbivores, including the first humans. Since herbivores eat plants it fair to assume that in either model at least plants died before the fall. This point is a small strike against the YEC position since death of any kind should not fit within that model.
To this point, YEC also holds that the carnivores we now see originally ate a herbivorous diet but after the fall accelerated genetic variation was triggered that very rapidly altered their physiological makeup to change them from herbivores to the carnivores we now observe and which are so astoundingly well suited for predation. An OEC model requires no such biological gymnastics. Incidentally, making this argument for the development of carnivores undermines a key argument against evolution.
The key here is understanding the difference between animals and humans, which is not merely a difference of relative intellectual development and capability. Genesis 1:24 speaks of the earth “bringing forth” soulish animals, nephesh, in Hebrew. These animals are those with the innate capability of bonding with one another and with humans and the classification would include, for example, the higher mammals and primates. But despite all their affectionate potential, their endearing qualities, their ability to bond with us and us with them, these animals and all others are fundamentally and qualitatively different from human beings – only mankind was created in the image of God:
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 1:26-28 (ESV; emphasis mine)
Furthermore as we look closely at Genesis chapter 2 we find that God placed Adam in the “garden” of Eden which he had planted somewhere on the planet and commanded Adam to “keep it”. Now ask yourself this: if all creation was a paradise, free from all predation and danger, how was the garden different? If all creation was a paradise, what need was there for God to plant a garden for humans? If all creation was a paradise, exactly what was it that mankind were to “subdue” as they multiplied and filled the earth? If all creation was a paradise, to where were Adam and Eve banished when they sinned and God ejected them from the garden?
As I researched this issue I was surprised to find that nowhere in the Bible is it stated animals did not die before the fall. Furthermore, right up until the Levitic priesthood, there is no indication of any special significance attached to animal death at all. Indeed the shedding of animal blood as it relates to the forgiveness of sins under Levitical law is clearly shown by scripture to be simply a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. There was certainly nothing special about spilling animal blood in general; only inasmuch it was done as a sacrifice to God and then only ceremonially under the old covenant as an (imperfect) prefiguring of Jesus:
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Hebrews 9:15-28 (ESV; emphasis mine)
Notice in particular that simply because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” the inverse is not logically imperative, that is, it is not therefore required that “with any shedding of blood there is forgiveness of sins”.
Why then do Christians hang on so tenaciously to the idea that animals could not have died before the fall? Certainly it should not be that this is perceived to undermine the sacrifice of Jesus any more than the death of animals between the fall and the institution of the Levitical sacrificial system would do so. In the relative scheme of things animal death is just not that important – indeed one of the grand fallacies of modern evolutionary thinking is raising the value of animals to that of mankind while at the same time lowering the value of mankind to that of animals.
There are several recurring scriptural “objections” that have to be examined to see if and how they pertain to this issue. We will examine these to see if we can apply sound hermeneutic principles to understand what these are telling us. Any discussion of OEC would be incomplete without addressing these.
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Genesis 2:15-17 (ESV; emphasis mine)
Key are God’s words, which I have emphasized. Since we have Biblical testimony that Adam did not physically die on the day he ate of the forbidden fruit we are logically compelled to accept one of the following conclusions. Either:
- God lied, or
- Day here means “lifetime”, or
- God was speaking of spiritual death (or, at least, something other than physical death).
It seems reasonable to me to argue that in the day when he ate from the forbidden fruit man died spiritually and at the same time he became mortal physically – in forfeiting his place as a child of God he thus immediately inherited death in the fullest sense. One could argue that mortality was a gift of God to fallen man – rather than allowing us to live forever in sin he limited the impact of sin by limiting the life-span of sinners. Genesis chapters 4 to 6 provide ample evidence of what happens when fallen human beings have a long life-span; imagine the fruit produced by an immortal fallen race. Recall that the reason God banished Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden was “lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever”.
It is also reasonable that in the context “day” means “lifetime”, which would be a fair translation of the Hebrew word Yôm. And if so then this passage could be taken to pertaining to physical death; however the other reasoning in this section needs also to be accounted for. Furthermore, interpreting Yôm in this passage as a “lifetime” would fairly demand the same consideration for Genesis one, so for a YEC advocate this stance would ultimately constitute a self-defeating argument.
Applying hermeneutic principles to this problem we recognize that the death and resurrection of Jesus imparts to us spiritual life now and grants us passage into the immortality of the next creation. Therefore we may reason that in like manner sinning cost us spiritual life now and denies us passage into the immortality of the next.
Speculating… Had we never sinned in this creation we might reason that this creation would have served out its purpose, quite possibly including the revelation of God incarnate in Christ at the appointed time (though without the cross), and, again at the appointed time, this creation would have been rolled up like a scroll, winked out of existence and mankind would have been ushered into eternal life with Christ in the next and final creation.
That being said however, it is only philosophically useful and of little practical value to reason long and hard about what might have been since, apart from discussion of infinite parallel branching universes, it is a nonsensical consideration. I have always been impressed with one of C. S. Lewis’s recurring themes in the Narnia chronicles, where Aslan says words to the effect of “It is not for you to know what might have been”. I think this is very insightful – for a God who is the eternal present “I Am” there is no what might have been, only what eternally is. In other words, from the very beginning God anticipated the fall and created this world to deal with sin and its consequences.
It’s clear from the physical laws of this universe, which scripture indicates are fixed from the beginning of creation, that this universe is actually designed to die – that is this universe was created in a state of decay, born to eventually die the heat-death when all energy has been transformed to a non-useful state. Consider too what was to happen once man had completed God’s mandate having filled the earth and subdued it – given our limited state and the laws of physics, eternity on planet earth just can’t be the end-game.
17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Genesis 3:17-19 (ESV)
Here the ground is cursed to cause man to have to work to survive, in stark contrast to the providence of the garden that God had created. But nowhere does it mention that now animals will start eating each other (not that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence).
And nowhere throughout the greater narrative is there any indication that the creation undergoes fundamental and universal changes in the governing laws of physics. Rather, other scriptures indicate that the laws governing the universe are fixed (Jeremiah 33:25-26, “25 Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, 26 then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”)
1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”
Genesis 9:1-6 (ESV)
Certainly then, it does seem clear that mankind had a herbivorous diet up until after the flood of Noah since it was only after that when God expanded the diet for mankind to include animals. It should be noted here that until the flood the average life-span was around 900 years; for such a long life a herbivorous diet is a biological necessity due to the strain on the body which would occur from eating meat for that length of time with its attendant stresses on the human body – immediately prior to the flood (in Genesis 6) God had triggered a change which was to limit human life-span to 120 years and in the generations from Noah we see a rapid decline in life-spans over the course of a few generations.
However what seems particularly pertinent in this passage is that shedding the blood of a human being created in the image of God is distinctly and qualitatively different from killing animals – sufficiently so that the punishment for the killer is to forfeit his own life in return.
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5:12-17 (ESV; emphasis mine)
Ahhh, now we get to the heart of the matter – for this passage clearly states that sin caused death, does it not? Well, no, it actually states that sin brought death to all mankind, not to creation en toto. Indeed, simple hermeneutics requires that since the life that Jesus brought was for mankind then the death which sin brought, which is like to the life, must be death for mankind. Furthermore because the life is spiritual, so the death is spiritual and physical mortality is but a secondary consequence.
Nowhere in this scripture is is there any indication that animals are affected one way or the other.
But Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians unequivocably tells us that sin brings death to all creation, right?
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
1 Corinthians 15:20-26 (ESV)
Actually makes it plain that the death of which it speaks is death to mankind. For the same death is countered by life in Christ, which life is made available to mankind and mankind alone of all creation. Never has the Christian church ever taught nor ever accepted the idea that any animal receives passage to the next life, the next creation, the new heavens and the new earth. That new life is for “those who belong to Christ”.
The Kingdom of Heaven is here and now to a limited degree; inasmuch as Christ’s church is present (and through it, the Holy Spirit) as salt to the earth. It will arrive in its fullness only in the next creation after Christ has destroyed “every rule and every authority and power”. And while the last enemy to be destroyed is indeed death, the death which is spoken of is the death of spiritual beings – mankind – not death of animals. While it is true that the Bible says of the next creation that the “lion will lay down with the lamb”, that may be because the next creation will have different fundamental governing laws and limits which greatly surpass those of this creation, or it may be simply metaphoric.
Indeed when the above scripture says, “then comes the end”, to what could it be referring if this creation continues and is merely restored to its Edenic state? I argue that the end is the end of space, time, matter, energy, and yes, sin and evil.
Which brings us to our next point.
Restoration or Replacement?
In Romans we clearly have all creation laboring under the consequence of sin, right?
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Romans 8:18-25 (ESV)
Not necessarily so – what we actually have is also a good picture of this creation having been instituted with laws and physics which doom it to an ultimate death, under which conditions it labors and groans as God’s vehicle to produce everlasting life. The creation was subjected to futility, not at the fall, but rather from the very beginning of time and space.
Revelation 21 makes it abundantly clear that our future is in “a new heavens and a new earth”, not this one, which will have “passed away”:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Revelation 21:1-4 (ESV)
And that it was always in the plan of God for this creation to pass away and for a the new heavens and new earth to replace this creation seems clear from Jesus himself when he said:
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ’Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Mathew 25:24 (ESV; emphasis mine)
For if the kingdom of our inheritance was prepared for us from the foundation of this world then our final destination was never this world.
This creation is temporal, designed with entropy to wear out and pass away. Its purpose is provide a stage to defeat sin while maintaining our free-will and hence the possibility of genuine love that reflects the agape love that is God.
25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
Psalm 102:25-27 (ESV; emphasis mine)
In the next creation there will be no possibility of sin, for sin will be defeated in this creation. Our very nature will be transformed – it is the choices made in this life which allow us to exist in the next everlasting life as beings capable of loving and incapable of sinning, just as God is love and yet cannot sin.
- God and Science: This site provides answers to questions about God, evidence for God’s existence, His care and love for mankind, and His provision for joyful living both now and into eternity through His Son, Jesus Christ.
- Reasons To Believe: The mission of Reasons To Believe is to show that science and faith are, and always will be, allies, not enemies.
Other Articles and References
- Bible Creation Passages
- Evidence of Genealogical Gaps in Mosaic Literature, Part 1
- Evidence of Genealogical Gaps in Mosaic Literature, Part 2
- Rapid Post-Flood Speciation: A Critique of the Young-Earth Model
- The Search for Adam Revisited: Evolution, Biblical Literalism, and the Question of Human Uniqueness (PDF)
- Was Evil Present in God’s “Very Good” World?
- Why I Reject A Young Earth View: A Biblical Defense of an Old Earth
- Revisiting Genesis: A Response to Critics
- Coming to Grips with the Early Church Fathers’ Perspective on Genesis
- Finding a Wife for Cain
- Let Us Reason: Noah’s Floating Zoo
- Let Us Reason: The Waters of the Flood
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