According to Scripture there are two ages (cf. Heb. 1:2) or two worlds reflecting cosmological dualism: the temporary, visible, earthly and created world (Rom. 1:20; 2 Cor. 4:18) and the eternal heavenly world (Luke 18:30). That the terms world (kosmos) and age (aion), despite having somewhat different spatial and chronological connotations, can be used interchangeably is made apparent by 1 Corinthians 1:20 and 3:18f., for example. (1* Cf. 1 John 2:17; 1 Cor. 7:31. In both First Corinthians and First John there is strong stress on the fact that this age or this world is passing away. See e.g. Fee, pp.83 n.24,342 n.24.) While the Jews believed that God inhabited heaven or eternity (Isa. 57:15) but occasionally came down to earth (e.g. Gen. 11:5), man inhabited the earth (Isa. 45:18; 66:1) and was confined to it. At death he went to Sheol despite suggestions here and there of a better, more permanent hope (e.g. Ps. 6:5; 30:9; Ps. 16:10f.; 17:15; 27:4; Isa. 33:17,20-22, etc.). However, while Isaiah 65:17f. and 66:22f. suggested to some of the earth-centred, old covenant, restorationist Jews the idea of a completely new or a transformed material creation (2* On this, see e.g. Beasley-Murray, pp.305ff.), that man should eventually enter the eternal kingdom of heaven (2 Tim. 4:18; 2 Pet. 1:11) or share God’s glory in the age to come (Rom. 5:2; Col. 1:5,27) was only hinted at in stories like those of Enoch and Elijah. Belief in two ages is upheld in the NT by Jesus (Mt. 12:32; Luke 20:34-36) and the apostles (e.g. Eph. 1:20f.).
From the human standpoint, the first of these two ages, or what Paul calls ‘the present time’ in Romans 8:18 (cf. Heb. 9:9), is referred to as this evil age in Galatians 1:4. Though the devil is said to be the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4), there may be some dispute as to the apostle’s meaning here in Galatians. Is Paul saying, first, that the age is evil as such; or second, that it is tarnished and thus characterized by sin; or, third, that it is ‘evil’ or, rather, pejorative (cf. Dt. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6; Isa. 45:7; Amos 3:6; Job 5:7; 14:1; Jer. 20:18) in contrast with the glorious age to come? While the first idea may be dismissed since it would impugn the holiness of the God who created it, the second and third ideas may be properly entertained provided we acknowledge along with sin the idea that this present age is to be regarded pejoratively irrespective of it (cf. the flesh in John 1:13;3:1-8; 6:63 and Rom. 7:18; 8:8f.). 2 Corinthians 4:17 (cf. Ps. 34:6,15,17,19,22; Acts 14:22 ESV), for example, suggests an inherent contrast quite apart from moral considerations. The same can be said with regard to the hardships experienced by Paul on his missionary journeys. Just as Matthew 13:21 appears to distinguish between natural afflictions and persecutions (cf. John 16:33; Rom. 8:35, etc.), so do the lists of Paul’s trials and tribulations in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 and 11:23-29. This world is not a bed of roses even where sin is not involved as the Lord Jesus himself would doubtless have acknowledged (Mt. 6:19f.; John 4:6, etc.).
Why Two Ages?
But we are perhaps jumping the gun. Our subject raises a number of questions. A legitimate first question is: why is there anything at all? Then, why are there two ages in any case? Third, we may ask, why were we human beings not simply created like angels to dwell in heaven in the service of God? Again, with Job and Jeremiah we might well wonder why all the suffering, the pain and the testing? In the book of Revelation we are told that all things were created by the will of God and for his glory (Rev. 4:11, cf. John 9:3; 11:4) along with that of the Lamb (5:12). In Colossians 1:15-20 the stress falls on Christ’s participation in creation and his pre-eminence in it and through it. If this is so, creation serves a purpose, that is, the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The temporal creation or this world/age eventually gives way to the age to come, that is, eternal heaven, mission accomplished. In other words, creation is clearly a means to an end and not an end in itself as the word ‘good’ in Genesis 1 suggests. It would seem that God created primarily in order to demonstrate the wonder of his love, mercy, compassion and grace in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-7, cf. Rom. 11:28-36; Rev. 4:11; 5:12f.). Since creation had a beginning, it also has an end, both a terminus and a goal. This being so, it was intrinsically teleological. As manufactured or “made by hand” (Isa. 45:11f., etc.) it was, however, in the purpose of God clearly defective or imperfect (incomplete not sinful, cf. Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12) and in manifest contrast with heaven which was “not made by hand” (cf. Heb. 9:11,24). In light of the fact that man was ultimately meant to enter the kingdom of heaven, it served as a testing ground (cf. the wilderness in Exodus) in preparation for man’s salvation, glorification and heavenly perfection. The pilgrimage from earth to heaven or from this age to what is from our point of view the age to come (Luke 20:34-36) was, of course, pioneered by Jesus himself (cf. John 1:51) who as man conquered and finally regained the glory he shared with the Father before the foundation of the world (John 17:5,24). And he did this as a pioneer with his fellows in tow (Heb. 2:9f.; 1 Pet. 3:18).
The mere fact that there are two ages immediately suggests, as the author of Hebrews intimates (1:10-12), that the first, like the first covenant that relates to it, is faulty (8:7) and requires abolition and replacement by the second (10:9b). So we get the idea of temporal earthly life followed by eternal heavenly life and a progression from flesh to spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50). Whereas earth, the home of man according to the flesh, was “made by hand” and had a beginning (Gen. 1:1), heaven is “not made by hand” (Heb.1:10-12; 9:11,24) and is the eternal throne of God which is characterized by righteousness (Mt. 6:10,33; 2 Pet. 3:13). Man as created initially out of the earth as flesh is firmly rooted in this world, but as one who is also created in the image of God he aspires as both individual and community to perfected life in the presence of his Creator in heaven. This is why he must of necessity be born again (John 1:13; 3:1-6) and changed (1 Cor. 15:50ff.). Little wonder that God set eternity in his heart (Eccl. 3:11) and promised him eternal life from the beginning provided he kept the commandment (Gen. 2:17).
The fact that there are two ages set in contrast in Luke 20:34-36 and 2 Corinthians 4:17, for example, raises big questions regarding the modern translation and interpretation of Romans 8:18-25. In verse 18 the apostle appears to be distinguishing between the present age and the age to come but using slightly different terminology. As I intimated above, his view of the present time is pejorative, especially in Galatians 1:4. But this is the only place in which he apparently ascribes sin to the present age. Elsewhere as I have already intimated, the NT suggests intrinsic difference apart from moral considerations. If this is so, a formidable barrier is erected against the idea so overwhelmingly followed by modern scholarship that the Greek word ‘ktisis’ (creation/creature) refers to “the subhuman creation” (cf. Moo, p.514 cited by Michaels, p.92 and n.2). If it does, a basic contradiction seems to have crept into NT theology and into the theology of Paul in particular. (3* See further my Romans 8:18-25)
So we are bound to ask what is the source or motivation for the adoption of this translation/interpretation which is in marked contrast to that of the KJV which refers to ‘creature’ rather than ‘creation’ in Romans 8:19,20,21. The answer would appear to be traditional Augustinian theology and its concomitant worldview. The assumption here is that God originally created not merely a ‘good’ (Gk kalos, literally beautiful or useful, Gen. 1) but a ‘perfect’ world which was cursed as a result of the sin and ‘Fall’ of Adam (man/mankind) to whom dominion had been given. It follows from this that the material creation must be redeemed. In other words, the contrast is not the ‘natural’ one between the temporal manufactured (cheiropoietos) earth and the eternal heaven as reflected in the difference between a body of dust and a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:47-49) but between a spoilt present world or age and a “future redeemed order” (cf. Ladd, Theology, p.46). As Ladd expresses it elsewhere, deliverance is not “from the realm of space and time but from sin and corruption” (EDT, p.21, cf. Theology, p.46). This is the traditional view, but is this what the Bible teaches?
For a start, the so-called Fall of Adam is dependent on the idea of his own original perfection and righteousness. But as has already been implied, Genesis only refers to his being ‘good’. Furthermore, this word ‘good’ carries no moral freight at all, for at the beginning Adam himself could not be righteous, let alone perfect, until he had kept the commandment (Dt. 6:25; Rom. 2:13; 6:16; 1 John 3:7) which like a baby he did not even have in the first instance (Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22). In fact, many scholars nowadays in the 21st century accept that the word ‘good’, literally beautiful, in the LXX means ‘useful’ or ‘serving a purpose’ (cf. Gen. 3:6). In light of this we are bound to conclude that the traditional idea of a calamitous ‘Fall’ resulting in a spoilt creation is false. What happened was that after receiving the commandment Adam and Eve, like Paul at a later date (Rom. 7:9f.), broke it and hence like children lost their innocence. If this is so, where does this leave the idea of a universal curse on creation? The answer must be that it eliminates it, or largely so. First we must recognize the fact that though Adam was fully developed physically, he was a mere baby on the spiritual level (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46). The Garden of Eden was clearly the womb of mankind which served as “a self-contained system of total supply” (Motyer, p.538, with reference to the future Jerusalem resembling the Garden of Eden). Since it is true that all sins lead to punishment (Heb. 2:2), part of the difficulty Adam experienced when he cultivated the land over which he had been given dominion arose from his personal moral disorientation and rebellion (cf. e.g. Jer. 12:10f.). However, his so-called ‘Fall’ was far from affecting the whole world as Genesis 13:10 and the ‘exceedingly good’ Promised Land suggest (Num. 14:7). After all, Cain had the same problem as Genesis 4:12 makes plain. Indeed the same state of affairs prevailed with Lamech (Gen. 5:29). And we learn later that the curse of a flood which was not specifically the result of Adam’s sin but that of his descendants was never to occur again (Gen. 8:21). In light of all this, we are forced, first, to recognize that work or the tilling of the ground was intrinsic in the exercise of dominion even before Adam sinned (cf. Gen. 2:8,15), and, second, that the earth outside the Garden of Eden, which symbolizes the womb, is naturally recalcitrant and hard to deal with, not least because it is characterized by natural corruption. This conclusion is amply supported by personal experience and what is taught later in the Bible (e.g. Gen. 5:29; Prov. 6:6-11; 24:30-34). Even the sinless Jesus was affected by fatigue and sweat on occasion. Man was never intended to live a parasitic existence in the womb forever (cf. Job 3; Jer. 20:14-18)! Life is not a bed of roses and there are no free lunches. If a man doesn’t work he doesn’t deserve to eat (2 Thes. 3:10). As I have just mentioned, the exercise of dominion implies work and man is not always inclined to work (cf. Prov. 24:30-34).
In other words, the earth, creation if you will, has problems written into it from the start. Far from being created perfect, it was, like the law or old covenant which related to it (cf. Mt. 5:18; Rom. 7:1), naturally defective (Heb. 8:13). Since it had a beginning, it was plainly temporal and not eternal. Being naturally obsolescent (Heb. 1:11), it had to have an end (Rev. 21:1). Again, since it was physically visible, it was intrinsically impermanent (2 Cor. 4:18). So if man as dust or part of creation was to live forever he had to keep the covenant (law) which was the precondition of life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5). And since that life was not earned (Gal. 3:21), it remained the gift of God (cf. Luke 17:7-10).
But there are other problems with the traditional view. If creation was originally perfect as Augustine contended, first, why was Adam called to exercise dominion over it and to keep the commandment? Surely what is perfect does not require such dominion on the part of man. By definition it cannot be improved. It is complete, fully developed, mature, permanent (cf. James 1:4). Yet, despite this, God himself, having rested after he had finished the creating process (Gen. 2:3), nonetheless continued to work by sustaining it (John 5:17) and upholding it by the word of his power (cf. Heb. 1:3). Second, if it was perfect, it must have been eternal (a contradiction in terms!) and hence had no where to go (see below). How could it therefore, first, become subject to curse and, second, give way to a new age? Third, how did it ever become subject to a curse? This latter question is very important. In contrast with Augustine, Scripture teaches that God alone is perfect (Lev. 11:44; Mt. 5:48, cf. 19:17). As the builder of the house he has more honour than the house itself (Heb. 3:3). (The relevance of the distinction between ‘manufactured’ and ‘not manufactured’ is important here!) So we must conclude that the house was not perfect after all (cf. Acts 7:49f.)! But then if a perfect creation can be marred and subjected to a curse, it follows by parity of reasoning that heaven and even the perfect God can be marred (cf. Rev. 22:3). In this scenario God himself must in the last resort be regarded not as a permanent rock and refuge but unreliable and susceptible to change like creation itself (cf. e.g. Ps. 46). One wonders, what the author of Hebrews would make of this (6:17-20)? The very idea is surely blasphemous and contradicts the essence of biblical teaching. The original perfection of creation is clearly a figment of Augustine’s imagination. It was no more perfect than the tabernacle whose imperfection the author of Hebrews strongly stresses. This becomes all the more apparent when we consider again the fact that creation was manufactured or “made by hand” (Gk. cheiropoietos) in contrast with heaven, the throne of God which is “not made by hand” (acheiropoietos). (4* See my Manufactured Or Not So). So to answer the question raised above, creation which had a beginning will also have an end, and that end is apparently a fiery one (Zeph. 1:18; Luke 17:28-30; Heb. 6:7f.; 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.). Like the world (Mt. 24:35), this age is innately terminable (Mt. 28:20). The reason is that God has always had something better in view.
Despite the fact that one of the most famous of passages in the NT, that is, John 3:1-8, scuttles the very idea of physical redemption, it is held by practically all modern theologians that behind Romans 8:18-25 lies Genesis 3:17-19. The evidence for this is nil. Nowhere else in the NT does Paul or anyone else even vaguely support such a notion. And the idea that Adam’s sin led to a curse on the entire creation necessitating its redemption is a theological mare’s nest if ever there was one. Admittedly, theologians claim to find support for it in passages like 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1, but the grounds on which they do so are shaky indeed. (5* See further my Will Creation Be Redeemed?) The new heavens and new earth first spotlighted by Isaiah, who as an OT prophet had little understanding of heaven as Jesus revealed it (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10-12), are clearly re-interpreted or spiritualized in the NT (cf. John 3:12f.,31). After all, they are the place where righteousness dwells and that is in heaven (Mt. 6:10,33). And just as we need to be spiritually born again to enter heaven (John 3:3,6), so our earthly bodies need to be changed (replaced) to complete the process (1 Cor. 15:50). Physical regeneration is out of the question. Paul underlines this fact in 2 Corinthians 5:1 where he maintains that we need a non-manufactured body to enable us to dwell in the eternal heaven.
Conclusion: The Falsity of the Augustinian Worldview
So I am forced to infer that whatever role sin has played in this world/age, it has not brought a constitutional change in either the still ‘good’ earth (1 Cor. 10:26,30f.; 1 Tim. 4:3f.) or the flesh that emanates from it as Augustinian theology suggests. To express the issue alternatively, the difference between the two ages is intrinsic. A second age like a new covenant implies that the first is naturally temporary. As such it is defective or inadequate (Heb. 7:11; 8:7) and requires replacement (Heb. 10:9b). This is surely the point of Romans 8:18-25. Proof beyond reasonable doubt is provided by the sinless Jesus who as born of woman was susceptible to death and decay like the rest of his brethren. As man’s trailblazer he too needed to meet the condition of eternal life, that is, to keep the law (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5) and overcome the world (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5,12), in order to attain to glory. Thank God he met that condition and unlike Adam escaped from this age/world. But in order to regain as man the status he had in eternity (John 17:5), he had necessarily to be changed (1 Cor. 15:50-53). (6* See my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities) We his disciples, his brethren in fact (Heb. 2:10-13), are thus enabled to follow in his steps (John 17:24) and be glorified along with him (Rom. 8:30; Rev. 3:21). We thus complete our course, or pilgrimage to the heavenly city, which is inherent in the plan of salvation, as he, our pioneer, finished his (Luke 13:32; Rom. 5:2; 8:30; Phil. 3:21; Col. 5,27; Heb. 11:39f.; 1 Pet. 1:3f.,etc.). (7* See further my Worldview, The Biblical Worldview)
Food for Thought
God is the King of the ages (1 Tim. 1:17, cf. Heb. 1:2; 11:3, Gk). Hebrews 9:26 refers to the end (completion) of the ages and I Corinthians 10:11 to the ends of the ages. In Mt. 13:40; 28:20 Jesus speaks of the end of the age. This must refer to the present time which is imperfect like the law that relates to it (cf. Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17; Gal. 1:4; Heb. 9:9). The new covenant overlaps the present age and the age to come. As believers in Christ, we have eternal life now but it does not come to full fruition until we enter the kingdom of God/heaven. This suggests that the days of Genesis are ages. For if God finished his creative work at the end of the sixth day and rested on the seventh (though continuing to uphold the universe by his power, John 5:17, cf. Heb. 1:3), there must be an eighth day or age. This is surely symbolized by the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:8-10) and is well brought out by Michael Wilcock in his work on the book of Revelation (pp.202f.). The language of Romans 8:18 and Heb. 9:9 is somewhat similar in Greek. If the latter (Heb. 9:8-10) is inherently imperfect/inadequate, that is, apart from sin, so is the former.
G.D.Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, 1987.
G.E.Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, 1974.
Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Elwell, Grand Rapids, 1984.
J.R.Michaels in Romans and the People of God, ed. Soderlund and Wright, Grand Rapids/Cambridge, 1999.
D.J.Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, Grand Rapids, 1996.
J.A.Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, Leicester, 1993.
M.Wilcock, The Message of Revelation, Leicester/Downers Grove, 1975.