The notion that the material creation having “fallen” along with Adam is presently under a curse is widespread. (1* See further my Cosmic Curse?) After all, the church has long been under the spell of Augustine of Hippo who, obsessed with sin as he was, believed that creation was originally perfect and was administered initially by Adam and Eve who were themselves perfect. In other words, Augustine misunderstood the meaning of the word ‘good’ in Genesis 1 and gave it a moral connotation despite the fact that our first parents knew neither good nor evil nor the law by which they are determined. Since like babies and animals (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.), they did not have (the) law (cf. Rom. 4:15; 5:13; 7:9f.), they could not have been anything other than innocent like babies.
However, because many modern Christians believe that as a result of Adam’s sin the whole creation was subjected to a curse (see e.g. Wright, The Mission of God, p.395), they have come to believe that what is clearly temporal requires redemption despite the fact that this is denied in Scripture (see e.g. Gen.1:1; Mt. 24:35; 1 Cor. 15:50; 2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27; 1 Pet. 1:18, etc.). In contrast with Augustine who thought of creation including man as perfect but mysteriously marred by sin, Paul following Genesis 1:1 regarded it as inherently temporal, transient (2 Cor. 4:18) and subject to corruption apart from sin (Rom. 8:18-25, cf. Heb. 1:10-12). In light of this the idea that creation is amenable to redemption is surely false. Since I have argued this elsewhere (2* See e.g. my The Case Against the Redemption of Creation, The Essence of the Case Against the Redemption of Creation, Will Creation Be Redeemed?, From Here to Eternity, Restoration and Replacement, etc.), here I am adopting a different line of approach. Accepting for argument’s sake the Augustinian worldview (on which see my Worldview, The Biblical Worldview) I explore some of its implications.
The Temporal Creation
If creation has a beginning (Gen. 1:1), it necessarily has an end (Ps. 102:25-27, cf. 103:14-18; Isa. 51:6; Mt. 24:35). According to Paul what is inherently temporal cannot be eternalized, but if it is assumed that the material creation is redeemed, then what is intrinsically temporal is in fact eternalized and rendered incorruptible. This not only defies logic but is also clearly contrary to apostolic teaching (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50b; 2 Cor. 4:18). The author of Hebrews with OT teaching in mind contrasts the Creator with his creation (Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27, cf. Isa. 51:6,8: Zeph. 1:18; 3:8, etc.). While the former is eternal, the latter is temporal, subject to aging and hence to ultimate disappearance (cf. 8:13; Rev. 20:11).
The Flesh Corruptible
If creation is to be redeemed and returned to its original perfect state (repristination, cf. the idea of paradise lost and regained), then the entire animal creation which was also the victim of death through Adam’s sin and curse, will have to be redeemed. (3* This logically includes bugs, beetles and beasts though some writers apparently attribute the existence of bugs to sin! Despite its intrinsic absurdity, even so fine a scholar as Thielman contemplates such a scenario, p.725. Needless to say his exposition of Romans 8:18-25 leaves much to be desired, see pp.358f., and compare my Romans 8:18-25). Animals are corruptible flesh and not spirit (Isa. 31:3) and hence not subject to redemption (1 Cor. 15:50a, cf. Ps. 49; Eccles. 3:18f.). This hardly sits well with 2 Peter 2:12 and Jude 10, for example, which teach that animals are made to be caught and killed. Furthermore, apart from their use in sacrifice there is no taboo on meat eating in the Bible. Little wonder that Paul makes explicit what Jesus made implicit (John 3:1-8) by asserting that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50).
It perhaps needs to be added here that the widely held notion that Jesus went to heaven still incarnate, that is, flesh as opposed to ‘human’, is biblically intolerable. According to John 17:5,24 he regained his former glory and this clearly necessitated the reversal of the abasement that his incarnation brought (cf. Phil. 2:7f.). According to Paul, transformation is universally necessary (1 Cor. 15:51f.).
We know that Jesus as flesh was as corruptible as his fellows for the simple reason that he grew older (Luke 2:40ff.; 3:23, cf. Heb. 2:17, etc.) like the creation from which he stemmed (Heb. 1:11) through his mother. As such, he was necessarily prone to urination and defecation (cf. Mt. 15:17). If this is so, then his physical redemption would necessitate an eternal supply of toilet paper!
The Material Destroyed
Third, the redemption of the material is a blunt denial of the clear teaching that once it has served its purpose of nurturing the children of God creation will the destroyed (Isa. 33:14; 51:6; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.). Thus, just as creation as a whole will be destroyed, so will the physical body that stems from it (1 Cor. 6:13; 2 Cor. 5:1; James 5:3). (4* See further my The Destruction of the Material Creation)
The Visible Temporary
It is part of the essence of Scripture that what is physically visible is temporary. Paul states this explicitly (2 Cor. 4:18, cf. 5:7; Rom. 8:20,24f.). The author of Hebrews holds a similar view and harps on the theme of faith in the unseen (cf. 11:1,3,13,27). Faith not sight is paramount for those who are justified (cf. John 20:28). The tragedy of those who value the visible is that like Ishmael and Esau they invest in the temporary physical/material. In the end they are left with nothing. On the one hand, having no heavenly treasure (Luke 12:33; 1 Pet. 1:3f.) they have no place in heaven (cf. John 8:35; Gal. 4:29f.; Heb. 12:16f.), on the other hand, their earthly treasure by its very nature is subject to corruption like creation itself (Mt. 6:19f.; Luke 12:33; 16:9; 1 Pet. 1:3f., cf. 1 Cor. 3:12-15).
The Earth God’s Footstool
In contrast with heaven, which is God’s throne, earth is his footstool and meant to be under the delegated dominion of the creature he has made in his image, that is, man. The inference we draw from this is that once the earth has been subdued by man, it will be disposed of like Joshua’s enemies (Jos. 10:16-27). In the event, earth has in fact been conquered by Jesus who was the NT Joshua (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5), and once the plan of human salvation has been completed, it will be totally destroyed along with death, the last enemy, which characterizes it. (5* To argue that death is the wages of sin reflects failure to recognize that wages are earned by breaking the law, that is, by rational souls who have understanding. Where there is no law there is no sin, yet it is patently obvious that all creation both vegetable and animal dies. See further my Death Before Genesis 3)
The Eternal Covenant
It is widely held that covenant theology in the Bible reflects organic unity. This view inevitably leads to failure to make necessary distinctions. It is thus not recognized that the initially uncovenanted creation, which as we have seen above is temporary and provisional (Gen. 8:22; Mt. 5:18; Rom. 7:1) like the Promised Land (Heb. 3,4 and 11:9), the earthly Jerusalem, the temple (Mark 14:58, cf. Heb. 8:1-7) and the fleshly body (Heb. 7:16; 9:10, cf. 2 Cor. 5:1), relates to and is regulated by the provisional and temporary old covenant. (There is surely a message here for Jews and Muslims and even some legalistic Christians who cherish earthly holy places.) This in turn leads to the idea that old covenant temporary restoration can be applied to what is occasionally referred to as the new heavens and the new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). These texts are admittedly taken up in the NT (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1) but in this new context they are almost certainly re-interpreted (cf. the references to Jerusalem and the ‘remaining’ in Hebrews) like David’s fallen tent (Acts 15:16-18) and refer to heaven which being eternal already exists. In other words, the NT writers go out of their way to distinguish between old covenant restoration and new covenant replacement (cf. Heb. 10:9). Paul, for example, as noted above, insists that the corruptible cannot inherit the incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:50). The point is that just as the temporal and provisional old covenant with its earthly connotations (see e.g. 2 Cor. 3; Gal. 4:21-31) needs replacement by the eternal and spiritual new covenant with its heavenly connotations, the hand-built temple by God himself (Mark 14:58; John 2:19f.; Rev. 21:22), the earthly Jerusalem by the new and the shadow by its substance, so the temporal earth needs replacement by the eternal heaven. The two are as distinct as the footstool and the throne of God (Mt. 5:34f.).
Manufactured or Not So
If creation can be redeemed, then what is ‘made by hand’ (cheiropoietos) can become what is ‘not made by hand’ (acheiropoietos). In light of the evidence this is impossible. (6* See my Manufactured Or Not So). The distinction between the two is fundamental (cf. Mark 14:58; 2 Cor. 5:1; Heb. 9:11,24, etc.) the latter being confined to the new and eternal covenant. If this is denied then the eternal Creator can be equated with his temporal creation. This, needless to say, is not only implicitly but also explicitly denied as references like Psalm 102:25-27 (cf. Hebrews 3:5f.), for example, indicate.
Traditional Augustinian theology dominated as it is by sin fails to appreciate biblical dualism and especially the radical difference between flesh and spirit.
Jesus tells us that God is spirit (John 4:24). In light of this it is unsurprising that Hebrews 11:3 tells us that what is (physically) seen (that is, created things, cf. Heb. 12:27; 1 Pet. 1:18), “was made from things that are not visible”. In other words, as Genesis 1:1 informs us, God who is spirit is the author of the physical creation and man his physical offspring (Acts 17:28). Thus to talk in terms of the redemption of creation is to imply that what is created can take on the characteristics of the eternal uncreated (cf. 2 Chr. 32:19). This the NT surely denies. First, Jesus tells us that those who are born of the flesh must of necessity be born again, that is, undergo spiritual but not physical regeneration (cf. 3:4). Why? So that they can enter the spiritual kingdom of God or heaven. Second, Paul endorses this by explaining that as flesh they cannot possibly do this (1 Cor. 15:50). Why? Because the flesh is naturally corruptible, that is, it grows old and wastes away (2 Cor. 4:16) like the creation from which it derives (Heb. 1:11) and the law which relates to it (Heb. 7:16; 9:8-10, cf. Mt. 5:18).
The Visible Creation
Creation has a beginning and therefore an end. Subject to time, it is inherently temporal. Like all physically visible things it is corruptible (Rom. 8:18-25; 2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 1:10-12). As Jesus explains in Luke 13:1-5, apart from old age death to physical human beings can come either through the collapse of decaying towers or through the sin of man (cf. Mt. 6:19f.). The Augustinian idea that corruption is uniquely the consequence of sin is a mammoth mistake, an example of theological myopia and a serious misreading of Genesis 1. While it is true that sin can exacerbate the situation, corruption (decay) on this earth is impossible to avoid because it is natural (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). It distinguishes the present age from the age to come (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17, cf. Luke 20:34-36). Even the sinless Jesus who was flesh and grew daily older had to be changed in order to make his exodus from it (Luke 9:31,51). His incarnation transformation had to be counteracted by his regeneration (John 3:6) and ascension transformation (1 Cor. 15:51ff.). Positing the redemption of the material creation is tantamount to positing the redemption of the flesh. Since the one is the corollary of the other, both alike are corruptible, that is, subject to decay, and their redemption is ruled out of court. It is intrinsically impossible.
The Perpetuation of Mortality and Corruption
The most obvious implication of the redemption of creation is the perpetuation of the present age of suffering and death. Normally and traditionally speaking Christian theology associates the latter with hell not heaven. No wonder human beings are urged throughout the Bible to seek life not death (Dt. 30:15-20, etc.) and to put to death not simply the passions of the flesh (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:16) but earthly things as such (Col. 3:1-5). As the children of God (John 1:12f.) we are intended to share the glory, immortality and incorruptibility of our heavenly Father (Rom. 5:2; 1 Pet. 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:3; Luke 20:34-36, etc.). In his presence death the last enemy which characterizes the physical creation is destroyed (1 Cor. 15:24-28). It flees from him along with creation (Ps. 102:26; Rev. 20:11).
Assuming its possibility, there are other implications of the redemption of the material creation. Since death and corruption are integral to and characteristic of it, they will reappear in the so-called new creation. Of course, it is frequently argued that creation will be restored, renewed, purified or transformed, but this is old not new covenant theology. It is to think like Nicodemus, not Jesus (see John 3:1-8) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:35-55; 2 Cor 4:16-18). In the Bible both regeneration (John 3) and transformation (1 Cor. 15:51ff.) are spiritual and somatic not physical. The root of the problem constituted by the redemption of creation is bad covenant theology (7* See further my Covenant Continuity and Discontinuity).
To sum up, Christianity is about progress, teleology, the advance of history, of man’s maturation, evolution, perfection and glorification (cf. Rom. 8:30). The redemption and perpetuation of the intrinsically obsolescent is absurd (Mt. 6:19f.; 24:35; 2 Cor. 3; Gal. 6:8; Heb. 8:13, etc.). It suggests going backwards not forwards (cf. Jer. 7:24) and fosters the notion of repristination or a literal return to the Eden of Genesis 1, paradise lost and regained.
On the assumption of the redemption of creation the differences between heaven and earth, this age and the age to come, are difficult to explain. According to the NT in heaven (the presence and throne of God) there is no earth and heaven (sky) (Rev. 20:11, cf. 21:1), no Hades (Rev. 21:14), no devil, beast or false prophet (Rev. 20:10), no flesh and hence no corruption (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 3:1-8), no marriage (Mt. 22:30, cf. Luke 20:34f.), no death (Luke 20:36), no crying, no night (Rev. 21:25), no mourning, no pain (Rev. 21:4), no sun, no moon (Rev. 22:23), no sea (Rev. 21:1), no material temple (Mark 14:58; Rev. Rev. 21:22), no uncleanness (Rev. 21:27), no curse (Rev. 22:3), no cowardly, polluted, murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolators, or liars (Rev. 21:8; 22:15).
On the other hand, there are or will be many rooms (John 14:2) and many people from every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev. 7:9) though none will be naked or disembodied (Rev. 16:15, cf. 3:4; 19:8; Mt. 22:11-13; 2 Cor. 5:1-4; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10,12). Also present will be the river of the water of life, the throne of God and the Lamb (Rev. 22:3) and the tree of life (Rev. 22:1) in the middle of the city. There will at last be spiritual visibility unhindered by the flesh (Rev. 22:4; John 17:5,24, contrast Rom. 8:20,24f.; 2 Cor. 4:18; 5:6-8) and an eternal (Heb. 9:15), incorruptible, undefiled, unfading inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4; Col. 3:24, cf. Rom. 8:32). Truly will there be a crown of righteousness and life (2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; Rev. 2:10) and an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17; 1 Pet. 5:4). In other words, the redemption of creation or more of our present physical experience will be excluded. The first heaven and the first earth (Rev. 21:1) like the first body (1 Cor. 15: 45-49) will have passed away (1 John 2:15-17; 1 Cor. 7:31). In the providence and purpose of God the obsolescent first (Heb.1:11) makes way for the second (or last) (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7; 10:9; Rev. 21:4) and the old makes way for the new (Mark 2:21f.; 2 Cor. 5:17; Heb. 8:13; Rev. 21:5).