The Corruptibility Of Creation

According to our Augustinian heritage God originally made a perfect creation. However, when Adam, the perfect, holy, righteous and immortal lord of all the earth broke the commandment (Gen. 2:17), his sin and its resultant curse affected not only himself and all his posterity but also the entire creation. The question is: Can this view of things be justified from Scripture? Can it be convincingly argued that Romans 8:18-25 where Paul talks of creation being in bondage to corruption is to be linked with Genesis 3:17-19 and a universal curse? Of course, assuming the truth of Augustine’s view of the early chapters of Genesis, the case seems persuasive. But then, on reflection, there seem to be good reasons why we should question the traditional assumption.

Creation Temporal

For a start, the book of Genesis opens with a reference to a beginning. This clearly highlights the temporal as opposed to the eternal nature of creation. According to Hebrews 7:3, the eternal has neither beginning nor end, has indestructible life (7:16) and continues forever (7:24f.). Apart from noting that creation has both a beginning and an end (see e.g. Gen. 1:1; 8:22; Mt. 24:35; 28:20), the inference that Adam who derived from a temporal earth was immortal, as Augustine taught, is patently false (cf. Rom. 1:23,25). While Paul teaches that our bodies are subject to death because of sin (Rom. 8:10), he nonetheless holds that as flesh we are mortal by nature (8:11, cf. Jesus). However, it is sin that gives death a sting (1 Cor. 15:55f.). In any case, as has already been implied, immortality is permanent by definition (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16)! On the evidence then we are forced to infer that creation, including Adam himself, is temporal by nature. As the book of Wisdom says, “God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity” (2:23).

Exercising Dominion

On this reading of the situation, it is not surprising that man who is naturally mortal but made in God’s image is offered (eternal) life if he keeps the commandment (Gen. 2:17, cf. Lev. 18:5; Mt. 19:17, etc.). The idea that he had it then lost it is manifestly false. This is clearly not the picture that Paul paints. For him, man, who is mortal in contrast to the immortal God (Rom. 1:23; 6:12; 8:11; 2 Cor. 4:11, etc.), is called to seek glory and honour, incorruption (Gk) and life by patience in well-doing (2:7,10). The implication of Psalm 8:5f. is the same, and in light of the failure of Adam and his posterity to achieve the well-doing necessary (cf. Ps. 143:2) it has, according to the author of Hebrews, been done for them by Jesus acting as both their representative and substitute (2:6-10; Acts 10:38). We might go even further and note that while James concedes that man has done much to tame the world in which he lives despite early failure on the part of Adam (Gen. 3) and his immediate descendants (Gen. 6:11-13), he has constantly fallen short of exercising dominion over his own earthly nature or flesh. To paraphrase his words, though man has tamed animals and ships, he has lamentably failed to control his own tongue and has as a consequence failed to achieve perfection (3:1-8) or, as Paul would say, the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). In pointing up man’s shortcomings, James then proceeds to underscore the difference between the earthly and the heavenly (3:15-17).

If all this is the Bible’s teaching, Genesis 2:17 is pointing to natural man’s need to escape from natural corruption – his own and that of creation in general (cf. Gal. 1:4). This inference is supported by Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus in John 3. If we set aside the traditional Augustinian gloss on this passage, we learn there that what is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. In other words, as Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 15:50, the most basic reason why man needs to undergo a spiritual regeneration is that flesh and blood are by nature, that is, apart from sin, corruptible and incapable of entering the spiritual kingdom of God who is himself spirit. The perishable cannot by definition inherit the imperishable (cf. 1 Cor. 9:25). To argue that it can is to involve oneself in a contradiction in terms.

The Teaching of Jesus

Apart from references like Matthew 6:19f. and Luke 12:33, Jesus clearly implies in Luke 13:1-5 that there are two forces at work in this world: natural (or physical) and moral corruption (or sin). While some Galileans were the victims of Pilate’s malevolence, others fell prey to “acts of God” occasioned by collapsing towers and the like. Our Lord suggests the same elsewhere. While there will be wars and rumours of wars implying sin till the end, there will also be earthquakes, famines (Mark 13:8), pestilences, terrors and great signs from heaven (Luke 21:11) which are far from being universally connected with sin in the Bible. After all, apart from noting references like 2 Kings 8:1 and Psalm 105:16 where sin is not implied, if we are inclined to draw attention to the seven bad years in Egypt under Joseph, by the same token we should be careful not to forget the seven good years. In fact Jesus sees natural disasters as the “birthpangs” of the age to come (Mt. 24:7f.). Unless we conclude that God is shortsighted, they have clearly been in the plan of God from the beginning (cf. Luke 21:34-36). No wonder Paul talks of rescue from this evil age (Gal. 1:4, cf. Mt. 24:8) which doubtless implies both its natural and moral corruption. (On poneros, see e.g. Vine, pp.211f., BAG, p.697)

Creator and Creation in Contrast

Can we find further support for this view? Indeed, we can. First, a contrast is maintained throughout the Bible between creation (and/or the creature) and the word of God (e.g. Isa. 40:6-8; 51:6; Rom. 1:23,25). It is a basic assumption that the present world/age is temporal and will ultimately give way to the age to come (Eph. 1:21, etc.). Genesis 8:22 (cf. Dt. 11:21), for example, suggests that the earth will not remain forever. Of course, given the context, this state of affairs could be the consequence of Adam’s sin and the universal curse that is said to arise from it, but it is interesting to note that rather than stressing curse the author is doing precisely the opposite, laying it down that God will never again curse the ground as he had done by means of the flood (8:21). Later in the Bible, however, the language is less equivocal. While Psalm 90:2 contrasts God’s eternal nature with the beginning of creation (cf. 93:2; 95:3-5), Psalm 102:25-27 draws attention to its end. The problem with creation seems to lie precisely in its susceptibility to corruption – it grows old and wears out like a garment (cf. Isa. 34:4; 51:6; Luke 12:33; Col. 2:22; Heb. 1:11). And what grows old is ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13). Both creation itself and those who derive from it and dwell on it are alike subject to decay (Isa. 50:9; 51:6,8). Man is not to be feared because he is inherently transient (like) grass (Isa. 40:6-8; 51:12; James 1:10f.). Like Jesus in Matthew 6:19f., Peter in the first chapter of his first letter draws out the distinction between the imperishable heavenly inheritance and the perishable gold of the earth (1:4,7,18, cf. 1 Cor. 9:25). Indeed he goes further and distinguishes between the perishable and imperishable seed from which man derives – in essence the same distinction as Jesus made in John 3 (cf. 1:13; 1 John 3:9).

Elsewhere in the Bible stress is laid on man’s nature as clay or dust (cf. Job 4:19; 10:9). As I have already implied, Paul seems to regard it as axiomatic that man made of dust is perishable (cf. Gen. 3:19; Ps. 104:29, etc.). It is therefore imperative that mankind proceed from flesh (dust) to spirit, from earthly physicality to heavenly spirituality (1 Cor. 15:44-49), from perishability (corruptibility) to imperishability (cf. 1 Cor. 9:25), from clay jar to treasure (2 Cor. 4:7), from this age to the next (Eph. 1:21), from mortality to immortality (15:53f.).

Made By Hand and Not Made By Hand

There is another point impressing itself on the attentive reader, that is, that man, who is “made by hand” (cheiropoietos) like the heathen gods (Isa. 2:8; 17:8, etc.), is by nature perishable (cf. Lohse, TWNT, 9:424ff.). Job complains that though God’s own hands have fashioned him (cf. Gen. 2:7), he nonetheless like Adam (Gen. 3:19) will return to the dust (Job 10:8f., cf. 33:4,6). The Psalmists are also aware that both creation and they themselves are the work of God’s hands (Ps. 102:25; 119:73, cf. Isa. 45:12; 48:13, etc.) and they are all alike subject to the same process of decay. This highlights a point that seems to be generally missed: according to the Bible to be ‘hand-made’ or manufactured (cheiropoietos) whether by God or man is to be perishable, mortal, corruptible. On the other hand, to be ‘not hand-made’ (acheiropoietos) is to be permanent, finished, complete or fully mature like the incorruptible God himself (Rom. 1:23, cf. James 1:4). The author of Hebrews highlights the distinction in 9:11,24 (cf. 1:10-12). In verse 11 he is telling his readers that to be made by hand(s) is to be imperfect, defective in some way (cf. the tower of Siloam in Luke 13:4). In verse 24, not to be made by hand involves heaven itself and the presence of God. Jesus had apparently made the same point in Mark 14:58 (cf. John 2:19) with reference to the temple. Indeed, using almost the same words, Paul had referred to the impermanent nature of the human body of flesh (2 Cor. 5:1, cf. Gen. 6:3). As a matter of fact, he makes essentially the same point when he is dealing with circumcision. Normally, circumcision was a physical operation performed by the hand of man at God’s behest, but God’s own circumcision, which is ‘not hand-made’, is spiritual (Col. 2:11). This reminds us, of course, of the difference between the baptism of John (by water and presumably involving the use of the hands) and that of Jesus (by the Spirit).

Heaven and Earth Distinguished

To sum up, the difference between earth and heaven is fundamental. The one is subject to corruption, the other is eternal (cf. Acts 7:49f.) like God himself, and sin plays no part in the difference. If we have any doubts about this, all we have to do is to consider the case of Jesus. As we have already seen, as God he had the power of an indestructible life (Heb. 7:3,16,24f.). However, once he experienced incarnation, he became subject to both death and corruption with a view to overcoming them (Heb. 2:14f.). If it is then replied that this was on account of sin (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18, etc.), we need to remember that he was clearly subject to the ravages of time (cf. Eccl. 3:1-8). Like the creation from which he derived through his mother he was born (had a beginning), underwent normal human development to mature manhood (Luke 2:41) and then visibly grew older (John 8:57, cf. Heb. 1:11; 8:13). Thus he gave every indication that his outer nature would eventually degenerate or waste away (2 Cor. 4:16) like the physical beauty of a woman (1 Pet. 3:4, cf. Prov. 31:30). Clearly, had he remained long enough on the earth, he would have died. But as the author of Hebrews insists, he was made lower than the angels only “for a little while” (2:7,9). If we deny this, we are forced to ask what would have happened to him at the end of the age (Mt. 28:20). For man who is flesh or of the earth, spiritual ascension to heaven sooner or later is essential (cf. John 20:17). Escape from corruption, even apart from judgement (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-54), is paramount. Let us probe further.

Relevant Texts


With the natural corruption of the world as our presupposition, Paul seems to provide strong support for the view I am advocating especially in Galatians 6:7f. where he tells us that we reap what we sow. If we sow to the flesh then corruption, even apart from moral considerations, is inevitable. The point is neatly expressed by Dunn who says that “the flesh is a soil which produces corruption” (p.52) and who quotes Bultmann as follows: “He who derives life out of the transitory must, himself, perish with the perishing of the transitory”, p.125 n.117). If we insist that this is the result of sin and recall the case of Adam, we must be prepared to ask why the animals, which do not sin, all die (cf. Ps. 49:12,20; Eccl. 3:18-21). They clearly sow to the flesh because they cannot do otherwise (cf. Ps. 106:20; Isa. 31:3), even though they live on the food that God himself provides (Ps. 104:14,21, etc., cf. manna from heaven, John 6:49). But man who is also made in the image of God can and must do otherwise. As well as eating perishable bread, which by its very nature cannot sustain him eternally, he must feed on the word of God (Mt. 4:4) or bread from heaven (John 6:27-35). It is the latter, not the corruptible material creation, that will never pass away (Mt. 24:35).

Paul paints much the same picture Romans 8:13 where he says that if we live according to the flesh we shall (inevitably) die. Here, admittedly, he has sin in view (cf. Eph. 5:5, etc.) but it is not the only consideration. On the other hand, if we live by the Spirit, we shall live. This clearly harmonises with what he says in 1 Corinthians 15, which points up the difference between the man of dust and the man of heaven. Here, however, it should be noted that sin is not mentioned. So we are forced to infer that there is no permanent future for dust, only for spirit (15:50). (I can only express my astonishment at Kistemaker’s claim that the dust of the earth is now on the throne of the majesty on high! Has he never read Job 15:15 and 25:5f.? Other writers like Bruce, p.98, and Grudem, pp.834f.,859, also tell us that Christ is incarnate in heaven.) The unprofitable flesh (cf. John 6:63; Rom. 7:18; Gal. 6:8), which is meant to be our slave, must be cast out since there is no permanent room for it in the Father’s house (cf. Gal. 4:29f.), only for the spiritual son (cf. John 8:35). And this is the reason why Jesus tells us we must undergo a second or spiritual birth from above. It enables us to escape from the consequences of physical death (cf. Ps. 68:20) and inherit the eternal kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 11:25).

Other texts of prime importance imply that escape from the corruption of creation is basic to the gospel. Before we look at some of them it might be interjected that what the Bible teaches is that it is moral corruption that leads to our bondage to physical corruption (cf. Gen. 6:11-13). Is this not the clear implication of Romans 6:16 (cf. John 8:34)? Certainly; but this was true in Adam’s case, as we saw above. Moral corruption begets inevitable natural corruption which succeeds death. This is why sin is such a problem. It blocks off the way of escape for flesh (cf. Rom. 7:14) in all cases except that of Jesus who, as the second Adam, lived a sinless life and triumphed precisely in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). He and he alone met the condition of life (Gen. 2:17) and overcame the world (John 16:33, cf. Heb. 2:9). Far from succumbing to corruption he uniquely brought life and “incorruption” to light (2 Tim. 1:10). But even he was necessarily transformed at his ascension like the saints at the end of the world (1 Cor. 15:51f.).


At this point it is perhaps helpful to turn to 2 Peter. First, it is important to note the distinction between the ‘world’ (kosmos) and the ‘earth’ (ge), which according to Lucas and Green (pp. 53,133), the NIV consistently maintains. This is important, first, because it suggests that the world that was destroyed at the time of Noah was human society not the whole created world as such (2 Pet. 3:6). Next, on this assumption, 1:4 refers to the moral corruption of men and women as in 2:20 (cf. Rom. 1:18ff., etc.). On the other hand, Peter’s reference to our goal of sharing God’s nature by escaping from moral corruption clearly implies the natural corruption of our earthly human nature. This point would appear to receive support from what he says in 2:19 where he refers, as Paul did in Romans 6:16, to those who are the slaves of corruption. They are mastered by what, according to Genesis 1,26,28 (cf. 4:7), they were meant to master. Otherwise expressed, they are not merely morally corrupt but they are like animals (2:12; Jude 10) enslaved by the corruption of creation and incapable of ransoming themselves (Ps. 49). In plain words, moral corruption inevitably prevents escape from material corruption. Thus, in noticeable contrast with Paul (Col. 3:1-5), Lucas and Green draw the wrong conclusion when they deny (p.53) that the way to God is to escape the physical realm along with the defilements of the body. They seem to forget that Peter strongly stresses the destruction of the physical world in chapter 3:7,10-12 (cf. Rev. 20:11; 21:1. In Luke 17 Jesus refers to both the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. In the latter, both man and his habitat are destroyed!). They also fail to appreciate that Peter (2:12) like Jude (10) implies the natural mortality of fleshly animals, as we saw above. Like Paul (2 Cor. 5:1), Peter is fully aware of the removal (apothesis, 1:14, cf. metathesis, Heb. 12:27) of his own physical body which precedes his departure (RSV). And again like Paul, he will certainly see corruption (cf. 2 Tim. 4:18) in fundamental contrast with Jesus who did not (Acts 2:27, etc.). But the new spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44,46) he will receive will be like Christ’s transformed body (Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2) and not the old one restored (cf. 1 Cor. 15:37). (It might usefully be added here that while Jesus body of flesh was restored at his resurrection, it was transformed at his ascension. Pace Harris and others.) So, Peter appears to be convinced that the present corruptible creation of which his fleshly body is a part is headed by nature for destruction. In this he is supported by the author of Hebrews who, while noting that the goal for man is glory (2:10, cf. Rom. 5:2; 1 Cor. 2:7; Phil 3:14; Col. 1:27, etc.), distinguishes between the earthly (or shadowy) and the true tabernacle in 8:1-5 and 9:11,24, the earthly and the heavenly in 12:18-24, and the shakable and the unshakable creation in 12:26f.

Greek Dualism

Most Christian scholars appear to have a morbid fear of Greek dualism (on which see e.g. Harris, pp. 283ff.) and frequently opt for what has been called anthropological monism. They stress the value of the body and refuse to regard it and physical things in general as “base and bad” (Lucas and Green, p.53). It may not be intrinsically bad (cf. Gen. 1; 1 Tim. 4:4) but that it is ‘base’ would appear to be fundamental to the biblical view. (According to the author of Hebrews in becoming man, that is, flesh, Jesus abased himself, 2:7,9, cf. 2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:7f., and throughout the Bible, but especially in the NT, flesh is contrasted unfavourably, with spirit (Spirit) even apart from sin, e.g. John 6:63, cf. 1:13; 3:3-7, etc. Our present fleshly or earthy body is a ‘lowly’ body, Phil. 3:21, ESV.) Contrary to the views of many, the Bible stands in contrast with paganism not with respect to the physical in general, which we are frequently told will pass away (Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; Isa. 34:4; Mt. 24:35; 1 Cor. 7:31; Heb. 12:27; 1 John 2:17, etc.), but with regard to the body. Christian believers will all retain their individuality even in heaven. They will all have bodies and not be reduced to a platonic idea, mere intellect, be absorbed by God or attain Nirvana. That this body will be spiritual, supernatural or heavenly (2 Cor. 5:1) and not physical or natural would seem to be made crystal clear by Paul when he says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 3:6). Since God is spirit and we are his children, we shall live in the spirit like him (1 Pet. 4:6, cf. 3:18; 2 Pet. 1:4). The fact that the “Old Testament nowhere holds forth the hope of a bodiless, nonmaterial, purely ‘spiritual’ redemption as did Greek thought”, as Ladd avers (p.55), somewhat misses the point as does his comment that the “world is not evil per se and therefore a realm from which man must escape to find his true life” (p.59). Escape from the temporal material world would appear to be of the essence of the promise from the beginning (Gen. 2:17, cf. Lev. 18:5; Ps. 8:5f.; Rom. 2:7,10; 8:18-25), that is, before the entry of sin into the world. And in light of this, the new covenant, not surprisingly, spiritualises the old covenant and this includes both the (fleshly) body (1 Cor. 15:45-49, cf. Col. 2:22; 2 Cor. 4:16) and the creation from which it derives (cf. Heb. 1:10-12). Just as the physical temple is destroyed (Mark 14:58) and spiritualised (cf. Heb. 9:11; Rev. 21:27, etc.), so is the fleshly body (2 Cor. 5:1). In the regeneration there is a new Jerusalem which already exists (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22) and will forever remain (cf. 12:27). Uncritical appeal to the OT is dangerous not least since it implies a false covenant theology (1*).

What Christians, influenced by limited and somewhat materialistic OT revelation and the false views of Augustine, have failed to recognize over the centuries is that creation is good (Gk. kalos) only in the sense that it serves a purpose (see further below). The flesh or the physical or earthly side of us is ultimately unprofitable (John 6:63, cf. Col. 3:5) and is, like the law (cf. Luke 17:10), incapable of producing either good (Rom. 7:18, contrast 8:4; Gal. 5:22f.; Eph. 2:10) or life (Gal. 3:21). A change or escape from the naturally impermanent physical is a dire necessity for entry into the presence of the eternal God and permanent service in heaven. If the transformation and glorification of Jesus is fundamental (cf. John 17:5,24), so is that of those who will live with him (John 14:19, cf. Rom. 8:30).

Other Relevant Texts

Ephesians 4:22 indicates that our life in the flesh is corrupt through deceitful lusts or passions. This immediately reminds us of Eve in Genesis 3. In Romans 6:16,19 (cf. 7:14; 2 Pet.1:4; 2:19f.) Paul stresses the hold that the corruptible flesh has over us in defiance of our original calling in Genesis 1:26,28 (cf. Ps. 8:5). In 7:5 he again emphasizes the role of the flesh which, lacking subjection to the law, leads inexorably to sin and death. In 7:9-11 he complains that though he was once alive (cf. Adam and Eve in the Garden), like Eve he was deceived by sin and so died. (The comment on 7:11 by Bruce, p.142, is appropriate. Regrettably Bruce, governed by his false exegesis of Romans 5:12ff., proceeds to miss the point.) The apostle ends his chapter lamenting the fact that despite his mental recognition that the law is good, he cannot keep it. Try as he will, he cannot harness his flesh which is a law to itself (7:23,25). And since his flesh rules, death is the unavoidable result (Rom. 6:16). It is only through faith in Christ that he receives the Spirit and lives (Rom. 8).


John 12:25 appears to extend the usual command to ‘hate’ our present transient lives in the flesh (Mark 8:34, etc.) to include the world, or creation, itself, which is also transient not to mention evil (cf. Gal. 1:4). This thought receives elaboration in 1 John 2:15 where the apostle appears to be using the word ‘world’ in a comprehensive sense to include creation as well as the people who inhabit it. Verse 17 in particular corresponds with the frequent OT insistence that the eternal God and his ephemeral creation are to be differentiated, as we saw above. Loving this world (cf. Ps. 17:14; 2 Tim. 4:10; Heb. 12:16; James 4:4) is the equivalent of the Israelites loving Egypt and wishing to return to it. Bluntly, those who are made in the image of God are called to exercise dominion over, to conquer and so to transcend this transient corruptible world and enter the incorruptible city of God (cf. Gen. 1:26,28; Ps. 8:5ff.; Rom. 2:7; Heb. 11:8-16; 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:3f.; Rev. 21:1f.). In the event, this was achieved by Jesus on our behalf (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9).

Romans 8:18-25

1 John 2:15-17 is frequently correlated by commentators with 1 Corinthians 7:31. On the assumption that the latter also teaches the inherently provisional nature of creation, like the law that was intended to regulate it (cf. 2 Cor. 3), we are compelled to take another look at Romans 8:18-25 which has been and is still used by most, if not all, to teach the view that it reflects Genesis 3:17-19 and a universal curse stemming from the sin of Adam. If it does, then it is not only unique but flies in the face of the teaching of the rest of the Bible. While it cannot be denied that sin involving failure to exercise dominion affects creation (cf. e.g. Gen. 6:11-13; Prov. 24:30-34, or Isaiah 6:11 which like many other texts refers to uninhabited land that becomes desolate when it is not tilled, or again, smoking and its ill effect on the human body), Paul does not mention sin in this passage. What he appears to do is contrast the present sufferings or birth pangs (cf. Mark 13:8; Gal. 1:4) of the physical creation with the glory to come. (He does precisely the same in 2 Cor. 4:7-5:5 where he focuses on the human body.) Exegesis of the passage is difficult (2*), but when Paul says (arguably) that creation was subjected to corruption by the express purpose of God, in light of the evidence presented above, our inference must be that sin was not involved. And the idea propounded by many, including translators, that creation will not be destroyed but enjoy (or share or obtain, though there is no word in the Greek indicating this) the freedom of the children of God forces one to wonder how it is that Paul teaches that the body of flesh will be destroyed (2 Cor. 5:1), like the OT temple (Mark 14:58), when its source is the earth. There is clear inconsistency here. The truth is that the flesh is naturally corruptible precisely because the earth from which it is taken is corruptible (cf. Job 10:8f., etc.). Again I draw the conclusion that what the Bible promises is escape from earthly corruption by keeping the law (Gen. 2:17; Ps. 8:5f.; Rom. 2:7,10). Since we are all incapable of that, we need Jesus to act as our representative, substitute and champion to achieve victory (Rom. 8:3, 31-39; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 2:6-9). And it is in him that we enjoy the freedom of the children of God (John 8:35f.) who are born from above (John 3:1-7) not of perishable but of imperishable seed (1 Pet. 1:23), not of blood or the will of the flesh but of God (John 1:13, cf. 1 John 3:9).

False Antitheses

If what has been argued above is correct, then false antitheses in tradition abound. Some of these are highlighted, for example in Michael Green’s exegesis of 2 Peter 1:4 (cf. Bauckham, p. 183). First, Green tries (pp.73f.) to make a distinction between the material world and sin failing to see that moral corruption blocks the way of escape from natural physical corruption (Gen. 2:17, cf. Gal. 1:4). Christians are called to participate both in God’s moral (i.e. his holiness and righteousness) as well as his spiritual or generic nature (cf. Rom. 1:23; 2:7,10; 1 Cor. 2:7; 2 Pet. 1:4, etc.). Indeed, the latter is dependent on the former, and was achieved for us by Christ (Heb. 2:9, cf. Rom. 8:3), the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). In this world we are bound by the corruption of creation, but in the next we shall, as God’s children, be free since we shall share God’s glory (Rom. 5:2; 8:18,24f.) and “incorruption” (Rom. 1:23; 2 Tim. 1:10). In this world we cannot by nature see God (John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:16, cf. 2 Cor. 5:6,8) but in the next we shall see him in Christ (Mt. 5:8; Rev. 22:4, cf. John 17:5,24; Isa. 33:17,21f.).

Next, Green tells us: “In contrast to Hellenistic ideas, Peter maintains that corruption and mortality are not due to matter, but to sin” (p. 74). But, as we have seen, they are due to both. Unless we can escape from flesh and blood, from intrinsically impermanent matter, we cannot enter the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50; John 3:1-7, cf. 1 Pet. 1:3f.,23-25. The flesh, personified by the slave Ishmael, even though born in the house is finally cast out, Gal. 4:30, cf. John 8:35). Again, we need to bear in mind that it was Jesus who overcame the world in the flesh (Rom. 8:3), he alone conquered when the rest of us failed, and it is in him that we can conquer too (Heb. 2:5-18; Rom. 8:31ff.; 2 Tim. 1:10).

Finally, Green (pp.74f.) denies Bauckham’s (3*) assertion that the Christian’s eschatological goal is to escape mortality and attain to immortality, that is, to share God’s nature (cf. Gen. 2:17; Rom. 2:7), and insists that it is rather the new birth. But it is precisely the spiritual new birth that overcomes, or replaces (cf. Heb. 10:9b), the physical (John 3:3-7), not to mention the moral, problem of the flesh (Eph. 2:1-3; Tit. 3:3-7). Again, it is clear that both are involved. The latter implies the former. According to John, if we are born again (from above of God, John 1:13) we have eternal life – but clearly not in the flesh (cf. 6:63) which we are told to put to death (Col. 3:1-5) not least because it has already in principle been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24)! Even re-entering our mother’s wombs would fail to produce eternal life. Flesh and spirit (Spirit) are as categorically different as earth and heaven, as this age and the age to come (Eph. 1:21), as what is made by hand and what is not made by hand (Heb. 9:11,24, etc.), as creation and Creator (Isa. 40:6-8; 51:6,8; Heb. 1:10-12). Anthropological dualism is basic to the teaching of the Bible (cf. Guthrie, pp.176f.). On the other hand, as body and soul man must be regarded as monistic. In the words of Bultmann, man is a body.


I have drawn attention above to the fact that according to both OT and NT the physical creation is subject to wear and tear and aging and as a consequence is set, along with the law (Heb. 8:13), to vanish away (Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 51:6,8; 54:10; Mt. 6:19f.; Lu. 12:33; 16:9; Heb. 1:10-12, etc.). Proof that this has nothing to do with sin is to be found in Jesus himself. So far as his fleshly human nature was concerned he was clearly growing older (Luke 2:41ff.; John 8:57). Thus, in light of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1, we are forced to conclude that as one born of woman, who herself derived from earthly corruption and whose physical beauty faded (1 Pet. 3:4), he also was naturally subject to corruption. Had he continued to live on the earth in the flesh, his death, even apart from sin, would have been inevitable. We are therefore forced to conclude that once he had inherited life by uniquely keeping the law, his eventual ascension to and glorification in heaven were both part of the plan of God and an intrinsic necessity. This he himself implied when he told Mary not to hang on to him (John 20:17). It was simply impossible for him to live untransformed on the temporal and hence corruptible earth (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). And the same is true of us who trust in him (Rom. 8:29f.).


The careful reader of Genesis ought to be aware that there is no reference to a covenant either with creation or with Adam. Why? it may be asked. The answer surely lies in the fact that both creation and Adam, as representative fleshly man (Gen. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:45-49), are ultimately impermanent and dispensable (1 Cor. 15:50). Just as Adam, Cain, Ishmael and Esau are all cast out as those whose associations are essentially earthly (cf. Ps. 17:14; Rev. 6:10, etc.), so creation, once its purpose is fulfilled and its harvest reaped (Rev. 14:14-16, cf. Rom. 8:21) is, like Sodom and Gomorrah, finally destroyed (Gen. 19:24f.; Luke 17:28-30; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Rev. 20:11; 21:1).

It may be objected that Jeremiah refers to a covenant with creation in chapters 31:35-37 and 33:19ff. It should be noted, however, that a covenant with inanimate matter cannot involve the mutuality evident in a covenant with men. In light of Genesis 8:22 we are thus forced to infer that the essence of Jeremiah’s references is stress on God’s commitment to Israel and to David. This inference receives further support from Isaiah 54:9f. where the covenant with Noah, though guaranteeing the prolongation of creation until the divine purpose is fulfilled, does not underwrite its permanence. Rather it assumes its eventual “departure”(v.10; Heb. 12:27; Rev. 20:11; 21:1). It should be noticed that Jesus uses a similar argument in Matthew 5:18 (cf. Luke 16:17) where he links the full accomplishment of the law with the continuation of creation. When the purpose of the law is finally fulfilled, both creation and law alike (NB Heb. 1:11; 8:13) become redundant (cf. Rom. 7:1). On the other hand, Jesus’ words of salvation are eternally valid (Mt. 24:35; Rev. 21:4f., cf. Isa. 51:6,8, etc.).


So, to sum up, the present creation (or age) is corruptible by nature (whether or not this is exacerbated by sin); hence we who derive from it according to the flesh are mortal by nature. Our problem arises from the fact that though the commandment promises life (Gen. 2:17, cf. Lev. 18:5, etc.), we, as those who give way to our fleshly passions (Gen. 3:6), cannot keep it, which is precisely as God intended (Rom. 3:20; 11:32; Gal. 3:22). The consequence of this is that our bodies, like that of Adam (Gen. 3:19), are subject to death and destruction because of sin (Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 5:1; 1 Cor. 15:56) and hence need redemption (8:23). On the other hand, even the fleshly body of Jesus, who did not sin and who did not see corruption, had to be transformed to give it (eternal) life (Rom. 8:11, cf. 6:9). For even he could not enter the eternal kingdom of heaven as temporal, that is, mortal flesh and blood (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50-54). Thus he made his flesh his slave (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 2:9; 5:8, cf. 1 Cor. 9:27) and at the end cast it out (cf. Gal. 4:29f.), for only the spiritual son can remain in the house forever (John 8:35, cf. Heb. 3:6)!


I conclude that salvation is not simply from moral but also from natural corruption, and it is to our gracious God that we owe escape from death (Ps. 68:20; 49:15; 56:13; Heb. 2:10-18).
1* Ladd appears to be at odds with himself. He writes: “The world is God’s creation, and as such it is by nature finite and transient, standing in a relationship of subordination to God” (p.46). He fails, however, to appreciate how the author of Hebrews, for example, refers to the shaking of the earth. For the latter, it spells removal so that the permanently unshakable may ‘remain’ (Heb. 12:27, cf. 1:10-12). In other words, its transience must give way to permanence, and since the naturally impermanent (corruptible) cannot inherit the permanent, earth must give way to heaven. It is important to note that the reference of Isaiah 65:17 to new heavens and a new earth (cf. 65:18f. and the new Jerusalem which already exists, Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22f.; Isaiah 65:17) implies the oblivion and dissolution of the old, while 66:22f. point up the ‘remaining’ (cf. Heb. 1:11; 7:3) of the new despite reference to new moon and Sabbath (cf. Rev. 21:23). As elsewhere in Scripture (e.g. Jer. 31:35f.; 33:19ff.), the relatively permanent is used to illustrate the truly permanent (cf. Motyer, Isaiah, p.449).

2* I have attempted this elsewhere. Given that the idea that the inanimate physical creation will “obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21, RSV, etc.) appears to be in direct conflict with the teaching of Scripture in general, including that of Paul, it would seem to me that we have two options. If we, like the RSV (contrast the KJV), translate ktisis as creation in all cases, we are bound to assume that the word “obtain”, which is not in the Greek text, is an illegitimate addition or paraphrase, and that the ‘eis’ (to or into) is telic (with a view to, for the purpose of). On this assumption Paul must mean, as elsewhere where death is the gateway to freedom (e.g. Gal. 2:19; Rom. 7:1-6, law; Gal. 4:3; Col. 2:8, the elements of the world; Rom. 6:2,13; 1 Pet. 2:24, sin; Col. 3:5; Gal. 5:24; Rom. 6:6; 2 Cor. 5:1, flesh, Heb. 2:14f., death itself, and note also the death of Egypt’s first-born sons leading to liberty for God’s son, Israel, etc.), that creation’s bondage to corruption will end with destruction (cf. Mt. 24:35; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.) and pave the way for the children of God, in contrast with those who are enslaved by the flesh (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 4:29f.; 5:21; Eph. 5:5), to gain the freedom of glory which is its antithesis (cf. Rom. 8:18,24f.; 2 Cor. 4:17f.).

On the other hand, if we accept that Paul is using ktisis, as the KJV suggests, in two senses (cf. his use of seed in Gal. 3, Israel in Rom. 2, 11 and Gal. 6:16, circumcision in Rom. 2:28f., Col. 2:11 and Phil. 3:3, and Adam as both the individual and the race in Rom. 5:12-21 and 1 Cor. 15:45-49), then we can argue that verses 19 and 20 refer to creation in general, that verse 21 with its reference to the “creature itself” is a more precise allusion, that verse 22 is clearly “the whole creation” as is verse 23a, and finally 23b “we ourselves” is again the creature. Certainly, what is true of the one is true of the other (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7-5:10). On this see especially Michaels (pp. 92ff.).

3* Bauckham is strangely inconsistent. While he can entertain the notion of escape from physical corruption (p.182) and acknowledge that sharing the divine nature involves becoming immortal and incorruptible (p.181), he has no hesitation in asserting that Romans 8:21 teaches that creation will “obtain the glorious freedom of the children of God” (RSV, p.276)! How he reconciles this with Romans 1:23; 2:7, 1 Corinthians 15:50, Hebrews 1:10-12, etc., I am left to wonder.


R.J.Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Milton Keynes, 1986.

F.F.Bruce, Hebrews, London, 1964.

M. Green, 2 Peter and Jude, rev. ed., Leicester 1987.

W.Grudem, Systematic Theology, Leicester, 1994.

M.J.Harris, From Grave to Glory, Grand Rapids, 1990.

S.J.Kistemaker, The Miracles, Grand Rapids, 2006.

G.E.Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom, London, 1964.

D.Lucas & C.Green, The Message of 2 Peter & Jude, Leicester, 1995.

J.R.Michaels in Romans and the People of God, ed. S.K.Soderlund and N.T.Wright, Grand Rapids/Cambridge, 1999.

J.A.Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, Leicester, 1993.