Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What might have been-2

Further answers to further questions from my correspondent:

1.As a general matter, we need to guard against the danger of imposing a false ideal on Gen 1-2. Something we import into the text from an extrabiblical preconception.

We need to resist the unconscious temptation of taking a static, antiseptic, Olympian view of view of paradise, such as we find in Greek mythology, popularized by Hollywood, where the Immortals dwell in marble palaces without kitchens or bathrooms, feasting on gold plates of ambrosia and crystal goblets of elixir while they listen to a bard intone the odes of Hesiod to harp music.

In such a world, nothing ever changes. Static, stainless perfection.

Frankly, I think that even an Edenic existence is a bit more down to earth.

At the risk of being indelicate, even the garden of Eden had its share of dunghills.

I assume that unfallen Adam could stub his toe, scratch himself on a branch, or get something in his eye—like a stray insect.

2.As for Frisco, are we to suppose that, in an unfallen world, the geography is frozen in time? Beaches never erode?

Wouldn’t the same panoramic view, however beautiful, get a bit boring after the first 10,000 years? Can’t we have a change of scenery from time to time?

Should unfallen men and women really expect to live in the very same area for hundreds or thousands of years without any gradual change in the topography?

And if gradual, why not sudden? As long as they know it’s coming.

What we call natural disasters are often wedded to basic natural processes.

Volcanoes don’t just happen. To eliminate volcanoes, you’d need to make a lot of other changes to the subterranean structure of the earth.

Same thing with earthquakes.

Likewise, volcanoes can be constructive forces as well as deconstructive forces. Without volcanic activity, we wouldn’t have the Hawaiian Islands.

How would you eliminate wildfires? A world without lightning?

What about rain? Is rain a bad thing? Should we have a world in which a river never overflows its banks?

But the ancient Egyptian economy depended on the annual flooding of the Nile to replenish the soil.

3. The garden of Eden was just that—a garden. Ordinarily, soil requires decaying fauna or flora to be fertile. Otherwise, it’s barren.

Certain forms of death are essential to certain forms of life.

4.I don’t see that a cyclone presupposes a dying or decaying world. It’s simply a natural mechanism for restoring a natural invariance in the temperature of the air or water. That’s not a case of reviving a dying world. To the contrary, that’s a functioning world. A world with natural cycles.

5.When I talk about technology, I’m not limiting myself to building codes. Advanced technology might be able to control or deflect natural disasters to some degree.

6.I prefer the interpretation of Gen 1:29, 3:14-19, & 9:1-7 by John Walton (in his commentary on Genesis) and Meredith Kline ( [pp54-57; 254-256]) to the interpretation of Morris and Whitcomb or Kurt Wise.

I think Wise is still worth reading. But not for exegesis.

Regarding 1:29 & 9:1-7, Kline has this to say:


A question that calls for consideration in this connection is whether the idea of man, before the Fall, sacrificing animal life for his own higher interests is compatible with the Bible’s representations concerning the original state of blessedness. Since all creatures were subordinated to man’s dominion and, as we have seen, sacrifice and death enter the original order as particular expressions of the consecration principle, there would appear to be no obvious principial objection to man’s having had the right to kill animals to provide himself with animal flesh for food or animal skins for clothing or for other purposes. Moreover, it is generally conceded, even by some who resist the idea of man’s being authorized from the beginning to take animal life, that study of natural history shows that all manner of animals had lived and perished even before man appeared on earth. Indeed, Psalm 104:21 seems to indicate clearly that the Creator had from the outset granted to predatory beasts to feed on other animals. And if that is so, it would have been anomalous if animal flesh had not similarly been consecrated to the higher interests of man, who was set in authority over all the works of God’s hands. This conclusion is supported by the apostle Paul’s comments in 1 Timothy 4:3-5, which reflect the terminology of Genesis 1:31, itself immediately connected to God’s statement concerning his provision of food for his creatures (vv. 29,30). Paul asserts that the foods some were proscribing (and probably meat is chiefly in view) were good and had in fact been created by God to be received with thanksgiving (cf. 2 Pet 2:12).

The counterarguments often drawn from statements concerning man’s diet in Genesis 1:29 and 9:3 are not cogent. In Genesis 1:29 the explicit assignment of the plant world to man for food is not restrictive, as though that were the only kind of food permitted to him. The theme of this passage is man’s kingship over the animal and vegetable realms. Since animals were designed to serve man in a great variety of ways – not only as food but as helpers in agriculture, as means of transportation, as beasts of burden, etc. – the general fact of man’s dominion over them is all that is stated. When it comes to the vegetable kingdom, however, its usefulness as food for man, whether by direct consumption or indirectly through the fattening of animals, is clearly the distinctive contribution it makes to man and hence man’s dominion over vegetation is described in those specific terms. Moreover, there is a special literary purpose in the reference to the permission for the use of plants for food in Genesis 1:29, namely to prepare for the exceptional stipulation in Genesis 2:16,17 prohibiting the use of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. These considerations show how unwarranted is the assumption that the silence of this passage concerning man’s use of animal flesh as food must be intended as a prohibition of such.

We will deal only briefly here with Genesis 9:3. For a more detailed treatment see the discussion below of the postdiluvian common grace covenant. If Genesis 9:3 were interpreted as simply permitting the eating of meat as well as vegetables, it would, in any case, not be the first such authorization even in the postlapsarian period, judging from Genesis 4:4 (cf. 3:21). However, what Genesis 9:3 actually authorized was the eating of all kinds of meats, thus removing the prohibition against the eating of unclean animals that had been instituted for Noah’s family within the special symbolic situation in the ark-kingdom. Instead of posing a problem for our thesis, Genesis 9:3 is another argument for it. For by its allusion to an earlier special situation where the eating of meat had been temporarily restricted to the flesh of clean animals, this passage discloses the fact that the eating of meat had been permitted all along and was not a privilege first granted after the Deluge.

Against our thesis, appeal has also been made to the idyllic prophetic descriptions of an eschaton in which carnivores are turned herbivorous; but this objection too is not compelling. For one thing, it must be remembered that the future world is not a simple return to conditions at the beginning. It is necessary to see if a given feature of the prophesied future may be a new feature introduced in the act of consummating the kingdom order. Moreover, such prophecies can hardly be pressed in the literal sense since we find that in other prophetic portrayals of the world to come, at least at the literal level, the redeemed are depicted as feasting, with no suggestion of vegetarian scruples. More significantly, something of the nature of the eschatological condition is evidenced in the resurrection manifestations of Christ; and in particular the episode of the risen Lord’s eating of the fish suggests that the sacrifice of such a living creature to the use of higher beings ought not to be considered as an imperfection in the order of things.

How then can we say that man’s original state was one of unmixed blessing if the likes of death were present in his world? The validity of that assertion resides in the fact that blessing for man does not consist in the absence of things like death, but rather in man’s dominion over them, or putting it the other way, in their subordination to man and in their serving man’s interests. Similarly, the curse on man consists in the reverse of this relationship; not in the mere presence of things like death but in man’s falling victim to them. Blessing and its opposite, curse, as they relate to man are simply the consecration principle working in two different directions. When the subhuman realm is consecrated to man, a state of beatitude exists; when man is made subservient to or victim of the subhuman, a state of curse exists.

Thus, the presence of subhuman death in the natural order at the beginning was not a glaring exception to the blessedness of man’s first estate, because death was then working for the maintenance and renewal of man’s life. Man standing in his righteousness as king upon the earth, sustaining his life through the death of plants and animals, their life in turn nourished by the sacrifice of the soil – that is the state of beatitude. Man, the sinner, felled and laid low in the earth, dust unto dust, reduced to a part of the soil to nourish vegetation growing above him – that is the state of cursedness. It is only when death thus victimizes man himself as the wages of his sin that it assumes the character of the great last enemy to be destroyed by Christ. In Romans 8:19ff. (reflecting Isa 24:4ff.) the personified earth mournfully groans over the postlapsarian role it must play as Sheol. It especially laments that it must serve as the cover, concealing the blood of the martyr-saints.

The Bible does not require us, therefore, to think of the character and working of man’s natural environment before the Fall as radically different than is presently the case. To be sure, the garden God prepared as man’s immediate dwelling was a place eminently expressive of divine goodness and favor. Nevertheless, the elements that could be turned against man were already there in nature. Man’s state of blessedness is thus seen to be primarily a matter of God’s providential authority over creation, controlling and directing every circumstance so that everything works together for man’s good and nothing transpires for his hurt or the frustration of his efforts. God gives his angels charge over the one who stands in his favor lest he should dash his foot against a stone (Ps 91:12). Blessing consists not in the absence of the potentially harmful stone, but in the presence of God’s providential care over the foot. Adam’s world before the Fall was not a world without stones, thorns, dark watery depths, or death. But it was a world where the angels of God were given a charge over man to protect his every step and to prosper all the labor of his hand.

It appears then that the secret of human beatitude is in the spiritual dimension of man’s relationship to his covenant Lord. To stand in God’s favor is the beginning of blessing and that is why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

In Genesis 9:3 permission is given to eat all kinds of meat: “All the moving things that live shall be food for you; as in the case of the plants I give you all (the living creatures).” Verse 3b might be translated: “even as the green plants I gave you everything.” This would then be a reference to an original appointment in Eden. As argued above, the eating of animal flesh was indeed permitted from the beginning. That, however, does not seem to be the point being made in Genesis 9:3b. It rather takes account of a limitation that had subsequently been imposed on the permissible varieties of animal flesh but was now being eliminated again in the postdiluvian common grace order. Such a limitation had occurred in the theocratic organization of the covenant community in the ark during the Flood. We come upon a distinction there between clean and unclean animals in the Lord’s instructions to Noah about the ark. When this clean/unclean distinction appears as a feature of the Israelite theocracy, it serves to call attention symbolically to the distinction between the Israelites, whose sanctification was externalized in their outward separation to God in his sanctuary-kingdom, and the nations outside that holy theocratic realm. A similar separation of God’s covenant people was effected in the ark-theocracy and it was similarly signalized at that time too in the symbolism of the distinction between clean and unclean animals. Moreover, since, when we find this distinction in the Israelite theocracy, it is applied to the dietary area, it should also be understood as having dietary relevance in the Noahic theocracy. This will then help to explain the purpose of the additional clean animals brought into the ark beyond the basic pair for the postdiluvian replenishing of the earth (Gen 7:2,3; 8:17). We know that they were intended in part to provide for the burnt-offerings sacrificed by Noah at the conclusion of the deliverance (Gen 9:20). But they were also to serve as food. As is thus clearly assumed, the eating of animal flesh had been proper all along, but the holy community in the ark-kingdom was restricted in its selection of meat to clean animals. When, however, the flood had passed and the temporary theocratic ark organization was disbanded, the rationale for the clean/unclean animal symbolism disappeared and therewith the dietary regulations based upon it. This was recognized and registered in the postdiluvian covenant when things were being returned to the common grace order that obtained prior to the temporary period of the theocracy in the ark. God said (paraphrasing Gen 9:3): “I give you permission to eat all kinds of meat again, without clean/unclean distinctions, just as it has always been permissible to eat all kinds of green plants without distinction.”

We find precisely this same change in dietary regulations being made at that later juncture in redemptive history which found God’s people once more in transition from a theocratic to a common culture, that is, when the Israelite theocracy was being terminated at the founding of the church of the new covenant. Acts 10 narrates that Peter was informed through a vision that the regulatory distinction between clean and unclean meats was abrogated and that he proceeded to apply this heavenly disclosure to the broader cultural distinction according to which theocratic citizens were distinguished from the people of other nations as clean from unclean (Acts 10:28). The theocracy was about to pass away and the people of God, as to their cultural life, were to become part of the common generality of mankind. The opening of the way to table fellowship with the Gentiles was an index of the common character of the society to which the saints would henceforth belong in this world, joining with unbelievers in common political, economic, and other cultural endeavors and institutions of all sorts.

Such a fundamental shift in the divine structuring of the cultural order as is evidenced in Acts 10 must clearly have an extensive bearing on the Christian’s assessment of his obligation to cultural regulations in the Mosaic legislation. This is obviously so with respect to Mosaic prescriptions in which the clean/unclean distinction figured and especially those in which the classification of nontheocratic culture and persons as unclean was a factor. By dealing with the illustrative instance of unclean meats and the related issue of table fellowship, Acts 10 establishes a broad hermeneutical principle that must be constantly reckoned with in the study of Christian ethics.


Walton adds:


The only action of which God is the subject is granting animals for food (v3). Consequently, the fear and dread can be viewed as the natural response to being hunted prey.[1]

”It should be noticed that the word for domesticable or docile cattle (behema) is not included in this list. That suggests that they are not necessarily characterized by this fear” (341, n.1).

Literarily the statement about “fear and dread” replaces the “subdue and “rule” clause in 1:28. What brings about this alternation? In our study of Gen 1, I suggested that the end result of ruling was domestication and control (see p132).

Note also that the category given for food is remes. The noun (remes) and the associated verb (rms) each occur seventeen times in the Old Testament, ten times each in Gen 1-9. This word group is distinct from both the wild (predatory) beasts and domesticated flocks and herds. Neither verb nor noun is ever used to refer to larger wild animals or to domesticated animals.

An alternative is suggested by the Akkadian cognate nammasu/nammastu which typically refers to wild animals that travel in herds; they are distinct from wild animals that hunt or scavenge, from the domesticated cattle, and from the docile beasts that do not tend to be found in herds…These animals were typically characterized as being the prey of hunters and predatory beasts. The most common members of this group were wild cattle, antelope, fallow deer, gazelle, and ibex. Some of these could be managed, though not domesticated.

There is a difference between being a meat-eater (people who use flocks or cattle for food at least on some occasions) and being a predator (hunting for food). Since this verse [9:3] only grants the remes group for food, it is logical to assume that it gives people permission to be predatory hunters of food. It is unclear whether butchering cattle for food is already assumed or has not yet been permitted[8].

“Abel’s offering is intriguing on this count. Since the fat parts were offered, it is clear that the animal was butchered, but the text stop short of indicating what was done with the meat. In later times, when the fat was offered, the meat was eaten at a ceremonial meal by the offerers and the officiants (342, n.8).

Note the interesting fact that when Genesis 1:29-30 granted permission for food, its terminology describes that which grew wild rather than referring to crops that were planted—though the terminology is general enough not to exclude what is sown. I tentatively propose, then that domesticated plants and animals were always considered legitimate sources of food, while permission was granted for gathering food growing wild (1:30) and hunting animals for food (9:3). Meat was not a common portion of ancient meals. Animals were kept primarily for their milk, hair, and wool, not for their meat.

J. Walton, Genesis (Zondervan 2001), 341-42.


Regarding the details of the curse, Walton also has this to say:


Serpents are often the object of curses in the ancient world, and the curse in v14 follows somewhat predictable patterns…Some [Egyptian] spells enjoin the serpent to crawl on its belly (keep its face on the path). This is in contrast to raising its head up to strike. The serpent on its belly is nonthreatening while the one reared up is protecting or attacking. Treading on a serpent is used in these texts as a means of overcoming or defeating it.

Likewise, we should not think of the curse of eating dust as a description of the diet of snakes. The depiction of dust or dirt for food is typical of descriptions of the netherworld in ancient literature…Dust fills the mouth of the corpse, but dust will also fill the mouth of the serpent as it crawls along the ground. Given this background information, the curse on the serpent can be understood as wishing upon it a status associated with docility (crawling on belly) and death (eating dust).

The nouns translated “pain” in the first line is issabon, a word used only two other times in the Old Testament (Gen 3:17; 5:29). Nouns from the same root refer to pain, agony, hardship, worry, nuisance, and anxiety. The verbal root occurs in a wide range of stems with a semantic range that primarily expresses grief and worry. What is important to note about this profile is that the root is not typically used to target physical pain, but mental or psychological anguish (though physical pain may accompany or be the root cause of the anguish).

This is actually helpful because interpreters have generally had trouble working out how conception is painful. Despite the NIV’s “childbearing,” the Hebrew word is specifically concerned with conception.

The text does not suggest that God created thorns and thistles any more than he created labor pains to add to human torment. The ground outside the garden always produced thorns and thistles, but now Adam will have to cope with them.

Ibid. 224-25,27,38.


The interpretations offered by Kline and Walton are complementary. Kline’s in more literary, in the sense that it draws attention to intertextual parallels in which an earlier text foreshadows a later development in the historical unfolding of events as well as the narrative strategy of the author—while Walton’s is more linguistic, as well as attuned to the ANE connotations of these actions, such as his reference to ophic imprecations in Egyptian culture.

In that regard, let’s remember that Moses studied in the Egyptian court. What’s more, even if he made use of preexisting historical sources in the composition of Genesis, Poythress points out in his new book that “the contents of almost the whole of the book of Genesis could have been recorded by Joseph the son of Jacob. As a ruler in Egypt and as a recipient of divine revelation, he had the resources to be able to produce such a work. Earlier records like his could have been used by Moses” (89).

I’d add that the Joseph cycle has always been impressive to Egyptologists like Kenneth Kitchen due to its historical accuracy.

On these verses, the interpretations of Walton and Kline enjoy a degree of textual, intertextual, and subtextual sensitivity and specificity I find quite lacking in the standard YEC literature.

This is not a blank check for everything they say. I’m quite eclectic in my use of commentaries. I’m not tied to their overall school of thought. It’s a question of who has the best interpretation of any particular passage.

The curse was not on the Garden. The curse took the form of an accursed existence outside the Garden.

God provided a garden for Adam and Eve. They don’t have to go through the grunt work of clear-cutting a forest and all the rest. They only had to maintain it.

And the animals in the Garden were domestic animals: livestock. They didn’t have to tame and domesticate wild animals.

All that changed when they were banished from Eden.

Eventually, unfallen man would expand the boundaries of Eden. Cultivate the wilderness. Tame the wild animals. But he could do so a little at a time. And he could do so with the natural stamina of perennial youth.

There’s an indirect sense in which the fall is responsible for a good deal of biodegradation in terms of industrial pollution and the like.

7.The Bible attributes human mortality to the fall. It is silent on animal death. And I think it implies the possibility or even necessity of antelapsarian, subhuman morality.

In fact, as I read him, that is, once again, the position of Poythress:

“What do we say about animal death? The later scriptural statements are talking about human death. God created man to have fellowship with him and to enjoy life in the presence of God forever, as the tree of life reminds us (Gen 2:9; 3:22)…The animals and plants, however, did not enjoy the same exalted status as man…God created man in his image, in distinction from the animals. The animals clearly belong to a lower category” (121).

Poythress also discusses Ps 104 in the same connection (121-22).

Animals could die from aging, disease, or predation.

This is irrelevant to the age of the earth.

9.As to house pets, that’s pure conjecture, and it parallels a child’s question of whether Fido goes to heaven when he dies.

Speaking for myself, it’s quite possible that God will restore a beloved dog to his owner. But it it’s also quite possible that the bliss of the world to come will so overshadow our little joys below that we won’t miss these things. And the same answer applies to a fallen world.

10.As to golden age prophecies, my point is not that the imagery is literal, but that the imagery has a literal referent in the future restoration of the earth. The imagery itself makes use of picturesque metaphors. As one commentator put it with reference to Isa 11:6-9:


The imagery changes again with vv6-8, though v9 then offers its explanation. Context suggests that the talk of harmony in the animal world is a metaphor for harmony in the human world. The strong and powerful live together with the weak and powerless because the latter can believe that the former are no longer seeking to devour them. The end to which vv6-9 lead thus belongs to the same world if thought as vv1-5 and fits with other themes from earlier chapters (e.g., 2:2-4). Indeed, the book opened by using animals to stand for human beings (1:3)—also in connection with the question of knowledge, as here.

J. Goldingay, Isaiah (Hendrickson 2001), 85 (cf. 368f.).


1 comment:

  1. Steve,

    If you believe that Eden was made at the same time (or darn close) as the earth itself, then your comment about the necessity of flora and fauna in the soil overlooks the fact that God must've "presto'd" a few trillion dead things into the soil as soon as it was made. That, or you believe that the earth's natural processes and other life went on for quite some time before the Garden and A&E were made.

    Minor point, I know.