In the never ending quest of faith trying to come to understanding, we run across the battles and internal wars of theology and interpretation which hinder us in our search. One of those battlefields that we often stumble into is the topic of creation and creationist theology. As a matter of conscience I must bring up my position on the topic at this point. I am a creationist. Which flavor old earth (OEC) or young earth (YEC)? Old earth is my tentative answer. Why? The facts seem to point that way. But on this battlefield there are other questions that abound that do not necessarily depend upon how you answer the question of the earth's age. At least to me they are not related.
One of the questions I have is that of death and decay in the original created order. The question, simply stated, is whether or not death, decay, disease, harsh conditions, etc. were a part of the original order. Was the world a Nirvana or a new world full of potential but needing tamed. There are those who say the the harsh conditions were not there and there are those who say they were. The old earth creationists invariably hold to the idea that death and subsequent decay were there, but not for man in his closed environment called the Garden of Eden. The young earth creationists seem to be divided on this or carefully define what is exempt from the process. For example, Jonathan Sarfati writes, "Probably the most serious problem with all compromise views of Genesis is the origin of death and suffering. A straightforward interpretation of Genesis shows that death of humans and vertebrate animals (Hebrew nephesh chayyah, "living creature") is the result of Adam's fall."1 The question to me is whether or not this is as clear as Dr. Sarfati asserts. Is another position possible or even more probable?
A WORLD IN NEED OF TAMING
The position taken here is that outside the garden the world was harsh and in need of taming. How does one arrive at that position?
Argument #1: The context of the initial statement of creation is one of the subduing of chaos.
Moses is writing to a people caught in a particular cultural context that is often referred to as mythopoeic (myth making). He presents his creation theology in such a way as to counter the prevailing ideas of his time. In some of the ancient cosmogonies creation is a result of a cosmic battle in which the powers of chaos are defeated by the powers of good. For example in the Enuma Elish the world is created from the dead body of the chaos monster Tiamat. Moses totally demythologizes these ideas and presents the idea of a progressive creation that begins with an initial act of creating, then six "days" of forming and filing, and finally a seventh day of rest. Chaos is present but it is always under the control of God and poses no threat to him.
The entire pericope is Genesis 1:1-2:3 and may be divided into eight subsections.
The first section is Genesis 1:1-2 which can be subdivided into two units. Verse 1 describes the initial act of creation in which the cosmic system is brought into being as a pure creative act by the deity. The word used for creating is bara' (ar'B') which does not mean "to create out of nothing," but in its theological sense is used of creating something that is conceptually new.
The second verse moves from the entire cosmos to the earth and is a description of it in its earliest existence. Please note that there is no time indicator stating how long this situation lasted. Did it last a moment or a very long period? There is no way to determine this except to note that a participle is used to describe the "brooding" of the Spirit of God in this context. Participles are often used to convey an ongoing event or process.
What was that world like? It was a formless void and covered with a primordial ocean that was in turn covered in darkness. Ancient men would have read this and seen chaos. Here is where the writer presents something that is unique and challenges the prevailing thought of his time. Moses saw that this all was created by God and was being "nurtured" by his spirit and was not a result of some cosmic conflict. It is before us as a violent chaotic scene, but also a potentially orderly one as God's Spirit is constantly working.
The words used to describe this chaos form the basis of the remainder of the pericope. The world was formless and so days 1-3 describe the acts of God which give the world form. The world was void and in days 4-6 the void is filled.
The methodology I follow in this type of problem is to first define the limits of each text that is brought to bear on the problem. What is the minimum and the maximum that can be inferred from the text. Dr. Sarfati in the above quote appears to see that the minimum the text means is that death could not touch man or vertebrates. OEC people would see that it was only man that could not be touched. The maximum for both groups would be that death was not there for man, animals, creeping things, birds, fish and plants. Nobody takes the text to this limit or else animals could not kill a broccoli plant, eat it, and have it digest. Excrement would never rot and become fertilizer.
To answer the question one must examine what the text says. The texts that are quoted are Genesis 1:31; 2:17f.; Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21. In my understanding of God and his ways with men I am bound by what the text explicitly says as far as I understand it, but not by what someone infers from it unless I clearly see it or if there is no other inference that can be legitimately drawn. In other words, I cannot bind my opinions on anyone but myself.
Genesis 1:31God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.Genesis 2:16-1716 The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die."Romans 5:12-1912 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned-- 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.1 Corinthians 15:21-2221 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.None of these contexts make reference to animals dying or the possibility of it. To me the texts are discussing death in relationship to the world of men.
1. Genesis 2:16-17. This text contains an interesting construction which is used twice. The construction involves using a word twice; once in its infinitive form and then in its verb form. If translated literally the phrases would say, "to eat you will eat" and "to die you will die." What the construction is intensifies the statement. How it intensifies it depends upon the word and the context. In the case of eating it does not mean to be gluttonous, but is used to give man freedom to eat of any plant in the garden with the exception of the one that is named. That is why it is translated "freely eat." The second use conveys the idea that death is certain and so it is rendered "you will surely die." Note the text is directed solely to Adam with no mention of any other creature. When Adam is cursed with death in chapter three there is no mention of animals sharing in his curse.
Human beings think analogically and experientially. To some degree Adam must known something of death for him to understand the full implication of the curse. Let us assume that you have never seen something called foobba woobba. For God to threaten you with the foobba woobba curse would be an empty threat if you had no experience with the concept that you could relate to your experience. Often in scripture existing concepts are given new meaning or have their meaning intensified. This is especially so in the case of curses. Read Deuteronomy 28:15-64. All of the curses are known experiences that people in the ancient near east have experienced, but if the point is that if the law is broken then they will happen to Israel and will come in the worst possible form.
My understanding is that Adam has seen death in some way and is warned that it will come to him in the worst possible fashion. This OEC group will find this interpretation to their liking because day six of the creation week has been going on for some time.
Genesis 2:16-17 16 The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die."
To be continued . . .
1Jonathan Sarfati, Refuting Compromise: A Biblical and Scientific Refutation of "Progressive Creationism" (Billions of Years) As Popularized by Astronomer Hugh Ross, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004), p. 195.