N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.
Does the OT agree with Paul that the Creation groans in anticipation of is redemption? [JFG]
It’s not unfair to ask where Paul got his doctrine. And it’s possible that he knows what he knows solely by direct revelation from God. Or maybe there’s even more to it.
(Isa. 65:17-25 ESV) 17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. … 25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.”
Notice that Isaiah, in highly poetic, metaphorical language speaks of the NHNE in terms of the wolf and lamb grazing together, etc. Isaiah sees the redemption of the Creation as extending to the animal kingdom.
Wright’s explanation is —
The basis of Paul’s belief here must be a combination of two things: the biblical promise of new heavens and new earth (Isa 65:17; 66:22), and the creation story in which human beings, made in God’s image, are appointed as God’s steward over creation. Putting the picture together, in the light of the observable way in which the created order is out of joint, and the clear biblical and experiential belief that the human race as a whole is in rebellion against God, Paul, in company with many other Jews, saw the two as intimately related.
After the fall, the earth produced thorns and thistles. Humans continued to abuse their environment, so that one of the reasons why God sent Israel into exile, according to the Scriptures, was so that the land could at last enjoy its sabbaths (Lev 26:34–43 [cf. 25:2–5]; 2 Chr 36:21).
… The answer, if the creator is to be true to the original purpose, is for humans to be redeemed, to take their place at last as God’s imagebearers, the wise steward they were always meant to be. Paul sees that this purpose has already been accomplished in principle in the resurrection of Jesus, and that it will be accomplished fully when all those in Christ are raised and together set in saving authority over the world (see 1 Cor 15:20–28). That is why, Paul says, creation is now waiting with eager longing.
N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 596.
There are many OT passages that speak in similar terms: humanity’s sin brings about corruption of the earth. Kruse’s excellent Pillar commentary on Romans explains —
He points out that [the connection of human sin with the defilement of the earth] is picked up and given impetus in the prophetic tradition, a case in point being Isaiah 24:4–6:
“The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish with the earth. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth.”
Colin G. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 343-344. This just has to be one passage Paul had in mind.
(Joel 1:10-12 ESV) 10 The fields are destroyed, the ground mourns, because the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up, the oil languishes. 11 Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil; wail, O vinedressers, for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field has perished. 12 The vine dries up; the fig tree languishes. Pomegranate, palm, and apple, all the trees of the field are dried up, and gladness dries up from the children of man.
(Joel 1:15-2:1 ESV) 15 Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes. 16 Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God? 17 The seed shrivels under the clods; the storehouses are desolate; the granaries are torn down because the grain has dried up. 18 How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are perplexed because there is no pasture for them; even the flocks of sheep suffer. 19 To you, O LORD, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has burned all the trees of the field. 20 Even the beasts of the field pant for you because the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
(Jer. 12:4 ESV) 4 “How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither? For the evil of those who dwell in it the beasts and the birds are swept away, because they said, “He will not see our latter end.”
(Isa. 33:8-9 ESV) 8 The highways lie waste; the traveler ceases. Covenants are broken; cities are despised; there is no regard for man. 9 The land mourns and languishes; Lebanon is confounded and withers away; Sharon is like a desert, and Bashan and Carmel shake off their leaves.
Entropy, for example [JFG]
This is quite unprovable, but clearly the NHNE will have to have a solution for entropy — the tendency of matter and energy to become more random and less capable of doing work. The universe will eventually grow cold and unable to support life of any kind. Eternal life in a dead universe would not be much fun. Therefore, if the final enemy is death, the next to last enemy is arguably entropy.
Perhaps the futility that God subjected the Creation to includes entropy — and so making all things (re)newed would include curing entropy. One solution would be to provide a “sun” that never goes out or burns up, such as God himself — which we find in Rev. 22:5, based on Isa 60:19. Part of (re)creating the NHNE will be replacing our source of energy (which can reverse entropy), the sun, with God himself.
To the extent the Fall of Man separated God from man and God from his Creation, mankind and the Creation became more and more subject to entropy. A God who can give immortality and resurrect the dead can reverse entropy. But if sin renders the Temple unclean, that messes things up.
Remember, Walton teaches that Gen 1 should be read as a dedication of the Universe to serve as God’s Temple. And yet we know from Leviticus that the sin of the people renders the Temple unclean and so unsuitable for God’s habitation. Something must be done to cleanse the Temple or, in this case, the Creation. Therefore, the sacrifice of Jesus not only cleanses God’s people so that he can dwell in them through his Spirit, but it also begins the process of cleansing the cosmic temple so that God can return, heaven and earth can be joined as one, and God can dwell among his people as he walked with Adam in the cool of the morning.
God is, of course, present in his Creation — but there remains a barrier between heaven and earth. In Rev 21-22, the two are joined and God dwells with mankind. What changes? Well, the Temple/cosmos/heavens and the earth will be cleansed, first, by the blood of Jesus and, second, by purging the world of its unredeemed elements with the consuming fire/wrath of God. Either the Death Angel passes over you because you are marked with the blood of the Passover Lamb or else you are purged to prepare the heavens and earth to be made new by God.
All of which is to say that Paul makes a whole lot of sense in terms of the narrative of scripture. Multiple themes and threads weave together to form the tapestry that is Romans 8.
The praises of the Creation in the Psalms
Some of the most evocative language regarding the Creation is found in the Psalms. For example,
(Ps. 96:9-13 ESV) 9 Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!
10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy 13 before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.
(Ps. 104:20-29 ESV) 20 You make darkness, and it is night, when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
21 The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they steal away and lie down in their dens.
23 Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening.
24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.
27 These all look to you, to give them their food in due season.
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
(Ps. 148:1-14 ESV) Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!
3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created.
6 And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, 8 fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!
9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and maidens together, old men and children!
13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the LORD!
So not only do the earth and its creatures mourn and groan under the weight of human sin, they rejoice and celebrate the generosity of God, praising God for his care.
Paul brings up the redemption of the Creation because he wants to argue that both Jews and Gentiles are “heirs” of God, and that requires him to demonstrate (a) that we are God’s sons (since only sons inherit under Jewish law (with exceptions) and (b) that the inheritance is not just Canaan; it includes the entire world. Well, there are lots of ways to argue the “entire world” case, but Paul chooses to follow the Prophets and speak of the world as accursed because of sin and therefore anticipating redemption — the same as is true of humans, except the Creation is the victim of human sin, not its own sin.
And this will set Paul up to briefly remind his readers of just what their inheritance will be — and why it’s worth the price in suffering that it will cost them.