Tradition has it that when Adam the divinely appointed lord of creation sinned and ‘fell’, creation fell with him and was universally cursed. As I attempted to make clear in my Cosmic Curse? and Romans 8:18-25, I believe this is based on a serious misunderstanding of the teaching of Scripture, especially of Genesis 1-3 and Romans 8:18-25. It is now (April 2015) more than a decade since I wrote my Cosmic Curse?. Though to date I have had no reason at all to change my basic view, I am still not entirely happy with my handling of Genesis 4-9 where I tended to play down the reality of the curse on the ground (Gen. 3:17-19; 5:29; 8:21). Partly in order to rectify this and to put it into perspective, I want here briefly to approach the question of cosmic curse from a different angle.
The Covenant with Noah
On the assumption that the doctrine of recapitulation (that is, that the individual recapitulates the history of the race as Jesus himself as the second Adam did) is true (1* See my I Believe in Recapitulation, Recapitulation in Outline, Epitome – Jesus The Epitome Of Recapitulation.) and that the Garden of Eden is the womb of the race rather than a temple as G.K.Beale suggests (2* See my What Was The Garden Of Eden?), just as a mother’s fruit-bearing womb or garden (cf. Gen. 3:20; Dt. 28:11; 30:9 and note Job 3; Jer. 20:14-18; Ezek. 28:13-15; 31:1-11) is the Eden of the individual, the period between Eden and the covenant with Noah represents the cradle period of mankind, the race. (3* The correspondence or comparison between individual and community occurs quite frequently in Scripture. The designation Adam can refer to both the individual and the community as can Israel, Hosea 11:1, cf. Ex. 4:22. And though the latter is a vine out of Egypt, Ps. 80:8, cf. Isa. 5:1, Jesus the individual is himself the true vine, John 15. In Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 2:15 and 4:13 Paul refers to the church as one man and in the latter stresses its call to maturity, cf. Dt. 11:2; Phil. 3:12-14; Heb. 11:39. Again in Ephesians 5:25-33 he sees it as the bride of Christ, cf. 2 Cor. 11:2.) Why is this significant? Because the curse pronounced on the ground meant to be ruled by Adam in Genesis 3:17-19 is perpetuated only until it is rescinded in Genesis 8:21f. (cf. 9:11,13; Isa. 54:9). Why is this so? it may be asked. Mutatis mutandis or making the necessary adjustments, the reason is that while the cradle period of the individual is the period of the unconscious and innocent weaning of real or literal babies who like the animals are the unknowing and hence innocent beneficiaries of the covenant with Noah, for the adult antediluvians it was a time of sin and unfruitful toil as the references to Adam himself (Gen. 3:17-19), Cain (Gen. 4:12) and Lamech (Gen. 5:29) make plain. (4* To explain further, ejection from the womb of Eden, a guaranteed source of supply, constituted a shock and introduced problems for man not previously experienced.) This did not come to an end until God, motivated by grace and with the plan of human salvation in mind, actually made his covenant with Noah. After that, in accordance with Genesis 9:1-17, the covenant stood firm, a point not lost on Jeremiah (Jer. 31:35-37; 33:25f.), Isaiah (54:9f.), Jesus (Luke 17:26-30) and Paul (Acts 14:17; 17:27; 1 Corinthians 10:26-30; 1 Tim. 4:3f.).
It can hardly pass without notice that apart from their nakedness Adam and Eve like babies did not feed on meat at the beginning of their development (cf. Heb. 5:12-14) but on the fruit of the trees (Gen. 2:16, cf. 2:9; 3:2-6). It was only after they left Eden that meat was on the menu (Gen. 9:3). (5* See further my A Double Helping and Death Before Genesis 3).
1 Peter 3:21
There is another clue in Scripture that suggests that the physically adult antediluvians were spiritual babies representative of the race in its fleshly infancy. I refer to 1 Peter 3:21 where the apostle likens Christian baptism to the washing undergone by our primitive ancestors. What is significant here is that Peter talks of the removal from the body of the dirt that features prominently with babies. Of course, Scripture refers elsewhere to the cleansing of the body of flesh by OT ritual (Heb. 9:13), but this lacks relevance to the point at issue except insofar as it also refers to the youthful minority (cf. Gen. 8:21) as opposed to the specific infancy of the race on the one hand and its maturity in Christ on the other. The author of Hebrews of course is concerned to underline the fact that animal sacrifice in contrast with the sacrifice of Christ cannot cleanse the conscience of those under the old covenant (Heb. 9:14).
It is also relevant to the matter under discussion that there is great stress on both the sin and the death of the fleshly antediluvian tribes in Genesis 5 and 6, especially 6:5,11f. (cf. Jer. 17:5-9). Clearly they were paid the wages of their sin (cf. Rom. 5:12; 6:23) but, as Romans 5:13f. (cf. 2:12) indicate, their sin, which occurred before the giving of the law, resembled that of Eve more than that of Adam (cf. 1 Tim. 2:14). In other words, they established the pattern followed and illustrated by Paul in Romans 7:9-11 who sinned first like Eve (Gen. 3:6) and then like Adam who received the commandment directly from God as Moses had done. (6* It needs to be remembered at this point that a Jewish boy despite being circumcised did not become a son of the commandment until his bar mitzvah at age 13. Rom. 7:13ff. clearly portrays Paul as a Jew under the Mosaic law which he was unable to keep. See further my Interpreting Romans 7)
On the assumption of recapitulation, it is vital to bear in mind the importance of the mutatis mutandis (making the necessary distinctions/adjustments) or the distinction between real babies and metaphorical or racial babies who are physically adult. (In clarification of this, it needs to be recognized that man’s understanding occurred later in his development or evolution than it does nowadays.) While it is easy to attribute the death of the latter who were adults to sin, what about the former who according to Scripture are born ignorant and therefore innocent (Dt. 1:39; 1 K.3:7,9; Isa. 7:15f., cf. 8:4; Heb. 5:13f.)? After all, many of them (especially in the ancient world) die too. However, if they are genuinely innocent, their death must be attributable to something else. Since they do not know the law, they can neither transgress it (Rom. 4:15, etc.) nor earn its wages (Rom. 6:23, cf. 5:12). By the same token, however, they cannot inherit its promise of life (cf. Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Rom. 7:10). So we are forced to conclude that they die like innocent animals (flesh) as part of a naturally corruptible creation. (7* On this see e.g. my Creation Corruptible By Nature, etc.)
Though it is difficult to prove, the great age of the antediluvians also points to tribes or families rather than to individuals between whom there seems to be an element of fluidity as in the case of Adam who was both individual and race, the man who epitomized mankind according to the flesh. While Noah for example is not strictly speaking an eponymous hero, as an individual he nonetheless belongs to and is representative of his tribe. Again, it is easy to see that the antediluvians, though adults, resembled babies who identified with and merged into the family taking on the family name.
Denial of a permanent cosmic curse begs questions. First, it is necessary to realize that though Paul and others can tell us that creation is still good and that the earth and its fullness is the Lord’s, temporary curses still occur (Lev. 26:14-39; Dt. 28:15-68; Isa. 24-27). Indeed, all transgressions of law attract a penalty as Hebrews 2:2 asserts. And inevitably when man fails to till the ground over which he has been given dominion, problems arise as Proverbs 24:30-34 (cf. Job 31:38-40), for example, indicate. And Paul goes so far as to say that the man who will not work should not eat (2 Thes. 3:10). However, as I have argued at length in my Romans 8:18-25, Genesis 3:17-19 refer to the ground over which Adam the individual was called to rule, not over the earth in its entirety throughout history. This curse culminated in the curse of the flood which had threatened universal death but was then countered or rather obviated by the covenant with Noah which guaranteed the future productiveness of the earth to the end of the age (Gen. 8:22). If, however, it is then maintained that even the modern world provides evidence of the cosmic curse and that Genesis 3:17-19 lies behind Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:18-25, I reply that this is a basic misunderstanding. What Scripture teaches is that God from the start subjected the creation to the futility of corruption quite apart from sin as Romans 8:18-25, Hebrews 1:10-12 and many other texts plainly indicate. Even the sinless Jesus as flesh was likewise subjected as frequent references to his age verify (Luke 2:42; 3:23; John 8:57, cf. Mt. 5:36; 6:27). The truth is that as flesh we who emanated from the ground are all subject to corruption simply because we are part of a material creation which having both a beginning and an end is itself corruptible. Physically visible, it is temporary by nature (2 Cor. 4:18), and our hope is an invisible one (Rom. 8:20,24f.). So, to confuse natural corruption (decay) with curse as the historical church has done is to make a calamitous mistake. It inevitably gives us a false worldview against which scientists, especially atheistic ones, indignantly rebel. Of course, the real fly in the ointment is the Augustinian dogma of original sin which the Bible does not and, if it is consistent with itself, cannot teach. (8* On original sin see my various articles, e.g. Some Arguments Against Original Sin, The Redundancy Of Original Sin.)
The Plan of Salvation
According to Paul, Jesus by divine design was the second Adam. And just as the intrinsically inadequate or faulty old covenant regardless of sin was always intended to be replaced by the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34, cf. Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7), so the first Adam who was flesh (dust) was always intended to be replaced by the last or second Adam (1 Cor. 15:47-49, cf. Heb. 10:9). (9* Some readers may object at this point but they do so presumably on the basis of failure to recognize that the new birth or birth from above is a natural necessity irrespective of sin, not an imperative on account of it. As Wheeler Robinson long ago remarked, we must regard regeneration as the normal and “natural” completion of the first birth, p.327.) Since sin prevented ordinary human beings from attaining to the naturally necessary new birth (Lev. 18:5, etc.), Jesus who kept the law to perfection was indispensable, for he alone brought to light both immortality and incorruption (Gk 2 Tim. 1:10 usually mistranslated at least in the EVV). But why was the new birth (John 3:7) along with the transformation of the flesh (1 Cor. 15:53) necessary (Gk dei)? (10* See my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities.) The answer is that it is impossible for the natural man or woman as either temporal flesh or spirit to inherit the kingdom of God. This is so because our nature as such since it is created ‘by hand’ (Gk cheiropoietos) cannot do so. (11* See my Manufactured Or Not So.) As Paul indicates, what is (naturally) perishable cannot inherit the (supernaturally) imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50b). Just as the body of dust which is regarded pejoratively throughout Scripture must of necessity give way to the spiritual body, so must the visible creation give way to the invisible heaven. This was God’s plan from before the foundation of the earth (Eph. 1:4-6, etc., pace those who teach the redemption of the present physical creation).
Racial and Literal Babies
There is another point worth making. While literal babies live unconsciously and innocently under the covenant with Noah, the morally aware adult antediluvians were not only sinful but like irrational animals also culpably unproductive (cf. John 6:63; Rom. 7:18; 8:6-8,13; Gal. 6:8 and note 2 Pet. 2,3; Jude). It is on this account that the curse on the ground threatened ultimate destruction in the flood. It had lost its raison d’etre which was implied in Genesis 1.26,28 (12* In Genesis 2:17, cf. Lev. 18:5; Mt. 19:17, man himself is called to perfection or maturity by keeping the law, Mt. 19:21.) This apparently will be the situation at the end of history. Jesus likens the state of affairs then to that which confronted both Noah and Lot (Luke 17:26-30). Furthermore, the author of Hebrews endorses this when he informs us that land that fails to produce appropriate fruit, that is, men and women (adopted sons) functioning as those who are made in the image of God (cf. Rom. 8:22f.), is on the verge of being cursed (cf. 2 Sam. 23:6f.; John 15:2a) and burnt (Heb. 6:7f.; 12:22-29, cf. John 15:6; 2 Pet. 3:7). Just as at Sodom both the land and its inhabitants were destroyed (Gen. 19:24-29), so it will be at the end of the age.
To sum up, sin and curse do not constitute the essence of our problem, they only exacerbate it (cf. modern global warming). According to Genesis, from the start creation was ‘good’ (Gk kalos), that is, useful and serving a purpose like Eve’s ‘apple’ (Gen. 2:9; 3:6, cf. the exceedingly good but inadequate land in Num. 14:7 and the good but faulty law in Heb. 7:18f.,8:7), but certainly not perfect like God as tradition has it. ‘Hand-made’ like man himself (see e.g. Isa. 45:11f.), it was initially uncovenanted and hence inherently both transient and destructible. Thus, we in our turn as its product, like the sinless Jesus who was born of woman, are by nature mortal and corruptible apart from anything that Adam did. In fact, all that Adam’s sin as highlighted by Paul in Romans 5:12-21 did was to prevent his posterity, Christ apart, from keeping the law, gaining the life it promised and escaping from this ‘evil’ age (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17; Gal. 1:4). (13* On Romans 5:12-21 see my Does Romans Teach Original Sin?, Thoughts on Romans 5:12-14, Thoughts on Adam, The Fall and Original Sin.) On the other hand, the covenant with sinful but faithful Noah guaranteed the maintenance and continuance of the naturally corruptible material creation but only until the gracious purpose of God for sinful mankind was complete (Gen. 8:22). In the meantime, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and the like warn us of the inevitable final catastrophe to come at the end of the age when unbelieving mankind will be caught like a rat in a trap (Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Luke 21:34-36; Heb. 12:25-29; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.). (Even as I have been preparing and writing this article, an earthquake involving many deaths has occurred in Nepal. As the author of Hebrews warns, this world is by divine design shakable, Heb. 12:25-29, and destined to pass away, Mt. 24:35.) We do well to heed the warnings (1 Thes. 5:1-3; Heb. 2:1-3; 12:25; 2 Pet. 3:11).
If, as I have argued in my Are Babies Saved?, literal babies who know neither good nor evil are neither saved nor damned, what about the symbolic babies of the race, the antediluvians? Since they were clearly morally aware like Adam and Eve in their maturity, they were capable of sinning and earning their wages in death. But by the same token, they were also in a position to exercise faith (cf. Gen. 3:15). In light of this, it should not surprise us that while Cain, Lamech and the like do not appear on the roll of faith in Hebrews 11, Abel, Enoch and Noah all figure. (14* By the time Noah came on the scene he was on his own but like Jesus who epitomized faith and obedience he, in contrast with Lot’s wife (Luke 17:32) made his escape along with his believing family, Heb. 2:10-13.) It is with good reason that it is said that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). The message of Scripture is that if responsible human beings pander to the flesh and act like irrational animals, they will certainly come into judgement. From the flesh as from the physical world all they can hope to reap is corruption (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:8). This is made plain especially in 2 Peter and Jude (cf. Luke 17:26-30).
Note on Work
The importance of work in this world can be gauged from references like Genesis 1:26-28; 2:5,15; 3:19,23; 4:12-14; 5:29; Prov. 24:30-34; Eph. 4:28. Not for nothing did Paul say that the man who is unwilling to work should not eat (2 Thes. 3:10).
See further my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?, The Transience of Creation, The Destruction of the Material Creation, Romans 8:18-25, Romans 8:18-25 In Brief, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, Creation and / or Evolution.
G.K.Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, Leicester/Downers Grove, 2004.
H.Wheeler Robinson, The Christian Doctrine of Man, Edinburgh, 1911.