The Goodness of Creation

In the Augustinian tradition creation has been regarded as good in a moral sense, and Adam and Eve, though they epitomize man in the flesh (1 Cor. 15:45-49), have been regarded as originally righteous, holy and even perfect despite the fact that since they initially lacked the law, they knew neither good nor evil (cf. Dt. 1:39. We become righteous by keeping the law, evil by breaking it, Rom. 6:16). It is therefore highly questionable whether the tradition is correct.

In more recent times writers have maintained that the word ‘good’ in Genesis means ‘suited to or fit for a purpose’. On the face of it, since creation was brought into being to be inhabited (Gen. 1; Isa. 45:18), to sustain the physical existence of all animal life and thus to provide the stage on which man is tested in the flesh (Dt. 8:2,16) until the plan of salvation is complete (cf. Gen 8:22), this is the likely meaning. But there is more to be said in its favour.

First, Proverbs says that the Lord made everything for its purpose (Prov. 16:4a, cf. Eccl. 3:11a) for all things including the earth are God’s servants (Ps. 119:90f.) created for his glory (cf. Heb. 1:3b; Rom. 11:36). Furthermore, all things serve the (moral) good (Gk agathos) of believers who are called according to God’s purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Second, Paul says that creation is still good (Gk kalos), that is, capable of producing the foods needed to sustain animal life (cf. Gen. 9:3), and apparently not under an alleged Adamic curse suggesting that it is evil or “fallen” (1 Tim. 4:3f., cf. Rom. 14:14; 1 Cor. 10:26, etc.).

Third, Eve’s “apple” is regarded as ‘good’ (Gk kalos), that is, for eating (Gen. 3:6; 2:9, cf. 1 Cor.10:25-30; 1 Tim. 4:4).

Fourth, women are said to be good (kalos) in the sense of beautiful (Bathsheba, for example, 2 Sam. 11:2), but their physical beauty has no moral value. Like food it is corruptible and not to be compared with beauty of spirit (1 Pet. 3:4, cf. 1 Sam. 16:7). While the physical attributes of Saul, David and Absalom receive mention, the fact that those of Jesus are totally ignored in the NT would suggest that as such they were morally worthless (cf. John 6:63). In any case, as incarnate, Jesus was both mortal (he died) and corruptible (he got older), and even though he rose physically from the dead because he had kept the law which led to life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Rom. 7:9f.), he couldn’t enter heaven as flesh (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 3:1-8). He was therefore necessarily transformed at his ascension (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-53). It is significant that Paul says he will not return to corruption (Acts 13:34, pace premillennialists).

Fifth, in conformity with this, Paul says that no (moral) good dwells in his flesh (Rom. 7:18; 8:8) which is rather to be put to death (Col. 3:1-5), even crucified (Gal. 5:24) along with the world (Gal. 6:14) which will eventually be condemned (1 Cor. 11:32. As is often the case in Scripture, both habitat and people stand or fall together, cf. Gen. 6:11-13; 19:24f.; Luke 17:29; Rom. 9:28f.; Heb. 6:7f.; 11:7). Since flesh derives from the earth, it would seem to follow that the earth is not good in a moral sense either.

Sixth, Numbers 14:7 refers to the Promised Land as being “exceedingly good” (agathos). But, in light of Hebrews chs. 3;4;11 (espec. vv.8,10,16, cf. 13:14), we can readily conclude that in itself, its symbolic nature as a type of heaven apart, it lacked moral value (cf. 16:13).

Seventh, according to Scripture God alone is (morally) good (agathos, Mark 10:18) and he is differentiated from his creation throughout the Bible beginning with Genesis 1:1 (see e.g. Ps. 90:2; Isa. 51:6; Heb. 1:10-12).

To ascribe moral goodness to creation then is to put it on a par with the eternal God and open it up to worship (cf. Dt. 4:19; Rom. 1:25, etc.) which is the essence of heathenism. However, as H.H.Rowley has said, moral goodness and evil inhere only in persons. Goodness is eternal, for God is good and he alone exists from eternity (The Relevance of the Apocalyptic, pp.159f., cited by G.E.Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom, p.330). Even children, like Adam and Eve before them, are innocent or morally neutral until they react to (the) law dawning on their developing minds (Dt. 1:39; Ezek. 18; Rom. 7:9f., etc.). After all, where there is no law there is neither good (Rom. 2:13) nor evil (Rom. 4:15; 7:8). In the nature of the case the material creation is excluded.

To be good in the sense of perfect, creation (including the creature) would have to be “not hand-made” (acheiropoietos, cf. Heb. 9:11,24, etc.). We are specifically told, however, that it is “hand-made” (cheiropoietos, Ps. 102:25; Isa. 45:12; 48:13; 64:8, etc.) and hence imperfect. (See further my Manufactured Or Not So)

Finally, according to texts like Genesis 8:22, Matthew 24:35 and 2 Peter 3:7,10-12 the physical creation which is by nature visible and temporary (2 Cor. 4:18) is headed for eventual destruction (cf. Rom. 1:20; Heb. 12:27; 1 Pet. 1:18). Apart from other comments that could be made, this in itself suggests that it was never seen to be morally good.

The Bible is intensely dualistic (heaven/earth, spirit/flesh, etc. See further my Biblical Dualism). I conclude that the Augustinian view is false and we do well to abandon it.

Note:  On the close synonymity of kalos and agathos, see e.g. J.D.G.Dunn, Romans 1-8, pp.386,390f. and W.D.Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 2000, p.32.

Another Presentation

1. Creation is (a) good (Gen. 1:10,12); (b) very good (Gen. 1:31), but (c) inherently defective in that it is temporal (1 John 2:17), provisional, “handmade” (Isa. 45:12; 48:13, etc.), the footstool of God (Mt. 5:35). Once its purpose is fulfilled, it will be destroyed and replaced by heaven itself where righteousness reigns (Mt. 6:10; 2 Pet. 3:13).

2. The law according to Jesus is good (cf. Mt. 5:17;19:16-21) but in comparison with his word (Mt. 24:35) it is temporary since it operates only in this world and only during our earthly life time (Mt. 5:18, cf. Rom. 7:1, etc.). When a person dies, the law ceases to apply (Rom. 7:3, cf. 8b).

The law which relates to this ephemeral world (Rom. 7:1,7) is (a) good (1 Tim. 1:8); (b) very good (Rom. 7:12) yet nonetheless inherently defective (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8). While Paul tends to stress man’s inability to keep it (Rom. 11:32), the author of Hebrews points out that it is not without fault (Heb. 7:18f., cf. 2 Cor. 3; Gal. 3:21), and hence needs to be replaced with a new covenant.

3. As hand-written (Col. 2:14, cheirographon) the law was visible and hence related to this material world which though ‘good’ is by nature defective (Rom. 8:18-25). Dunn stresses this aspect of the law to its detriment especially in its association with the flesh, circumcision and external ritual (p.42, cf. Romans p.124).

4. The old covenant was (a) good (Deut. 6:24f.); (b) even very good (2 Cor. 3:7), but (c) was eclipsed by the new covenant because it was obsolete (2 Cor. 3:8; Heb. 8:13). It was thus headed for abolition and replacement (Heb. 10:9).

5. The flesh, which emanates from the earth, while not being evil (cf. Ps. 139:14), is ultimately unprofitable (John 6:63, cf. Rom. 7:18) and is in any case temporal and provisional (1 Cor. 15:49, cf. Heb. 7:16). So the flesh also is inherently defective and like the earth itself “handmade” (Ps. 119:73; 2 Cor. 5:1). It thus requires replacement (1 Cor. 15:42-54).

6. Food (like drink, cf. John 4:12) is (a) good (Gen. 2:9, cf. Isa. 1:19; 1 Cor. 10:25-30; 1 Tim. 4:4); (b) even very good (Gen. 3:6), but nonetheless inherently defective (John 6:49, cf. vv. 53-57). To live eternally, man must feed on the word of God (Mt. 4:4).

7. Sex is (a) good (Mt. 19:5); (b) very good (Heb. 13:4), but (c) is limited to this ephemeral world of the flesh (Luke 20:35).

8. The temple is (a) good (cf. 2 Sam. 7:3); (b) very good (e.g. 1 K. 8:29), but (c) being hand-made like the fleshly tent, it is nonetheless defective (Mark 14:58; John 2:19f.). As such it must be destroyed and replaced (cf. Heb. 9:8-10; John 14:6).

9. The Promised Land is (a) good (Dt. 1:25); (b) even very good (Num. 14:7), but (c) nonetheless inherently defective (Heb. 3,4). Being visible and temporary (2 Cor. 4:18), it must like Jerusalem (Isa. 1:26) become a land of righteousness in the heavenly world (Isa. 65:17-19; Heb. 11:10,16; 13:14; 2 Pet. 3:13).

10. As the city of the great (earthly) king chosen by God (Dt. 12:14,18,21, etc.) Jerusalem is good (Mt. 5:35), but it is also temporary and must give way to the New Jerusalem which is the city of the living God (Heb. 12:22, cf. 11:10; 13:14; Gal. 4:26; Rev. 21:9-22:5).


All this surely demonstrates the absurdity of the Augustinian idea that the earth was originally perfect but was subjected to a cosmic curse when Adam sinned. Sin is read into passages like John 3:1-8, Romans 8:18-25 and 1 Corinthians 15:42-50 (eisegesis) not read out of them (exegesis).