This is the 3rd post on this topic, and there at least 2 things we’ll be assuming here from those last two posts, both are observations from Genesis 1:
(1) Everything that God created and called good, was good; but God did not call everything good. The things which God does not explicitly call “good” were: the state of the world as “without shape and empty”, “the darkness”, “the deep”, and “the serpent”.
(2) The impression that the paradise Adam & Eve enjoyed was unique on earth. Combined with (1) above, this opens up the possibility that the “curse” does not imply that the entire world was an Edenic paradise up to then.
There’s one more objection to (1) above I want to clear up. In Genesis 1:31 we read, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Doesn’t this imply that up to this point, everything was perfect? Well, not necessarily. Verse 31 is at the end of the seven days, and it would be sticking more closely to the actual order of things to say : “God declared ‘everything that he had made’ as ‘good’ when the finished product had appeared”. This is the same pattern throughout all Genesis 1, and, by the end of this post, we’ll hopefully have some other scriptures to balance out this reaction to the isolated creation account in Genesis.
The question now is: “How do we interpret ‘the bondage of decay’ spoken of in Rom. 8:20-21?”
From the perspective we’re working towards, “the bondage of decay” is represented in Genesis by “the darkness”, “the deep”, and “the serpent”. There are two aspects to understanding how this fits with the rest of the Bible.
One aspect is looking at more scriptures which give us the reason to believe that God’s commands were met with hostility during creation. There are several places in the Bible, outside of Genesis, that talk about the creation of the world. We’re trying to avoid ignoring all these other passages. The second aspect is how God “subjects the world to futility”, as it says in Romans 8:20. We’ll explore this by looking at how God does similar things in other instances of the Old & New Testament. This will be left for the next post.
So, are there actually other scriptures which connect “the bondage of decay” to “the deep”, “the darkness”, or “the serpent”, and, are there other passages about creation which give us reason to think that God was overcoming these powers as he spoke the created order into existence?
Well, we know that “the serpent” is interpreted as Satan in the New Testament (Rev. 12:9, 20:2). The Canaanite culture around the time Genesis was written also used the imagery of a “dragon” and “sea monster” to “symbolize the destructive water of the sea and in turn the forces of chaos that threaten the established order” (netbible.org/note 4). Remember this for the rest of the way.
“The deep” is only slightly more complicated.
The Hebrew word for “the deep”, “tehom”, resembles another word used in another ancient creation account: “tiamat”. Many scholars believe that the author of Genesis was deliberately mimicking the word to make a point in reference to that other creation account: Enuma Elish. Here’s a link if you’re interested in all the parallels, and differences, between Enuma Elish and the Genesis account: Enuma Elish
There are a few things to note for our purposes. One is that the goddess Tiamat was representative of chaos. In Enuma Elish the god Marduk, after defeating Tiamat and cutting her up into pieces, uses her body to form the physical world. The following passage is telling (emphasis added):
137 He split her into two like a dried fish:
138 One half of her he set up and stretched out as the heavens.
139 He stretched the skin and appointed a watch
140 With the instruction not to let her waters escape.
I highlighted that last line of Enuma Elish because it re-emphasizes how water was representative of chaos for the canaanite culture around the Israelites. So, “the deep” was a sort of negative way of talking about the oceans and seas as they represented the forces that threatened the order of the world. This will all help bring out the ways in which scripture turns these metaphors around to imply that it was “Yahweh” not “Marduk” or any other combination of Canaanite gods that was responsible for the order of creation.
Collectively, I think the scriptures below make it pretty clear that , if we’re looking at all of the Bible, God did have to overcome opposition to create the order of the world in Genesis 1. If this is true, then the “bondage of decay” is not something God imposed on creation, but, a corruption of reality that was present already; not eternal, but definitely pre-human.
This then opens up the possibility that the suffering which seems to be present in the world before humans entered the picture, was the working-out of this conflict between God and the forces that oppose him, the chaotic “waters”, the “darkness”, the “deep”, and “the serpent”; and this, at least in a general way to start, is a way to understand the problem I posed in the first post with regards to evolution. There’s much to be added, but that’s a glimpse of the general picture.
I’ll end with some of those passages I’ve referred to, and allow them to speak for themselves:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was without shape and empty,
and darkness was over the surface of the deep,
but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.
And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light!
God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”
There was evening, and there was morning, marking the first day.- Genesis 1:1-6
Who shut up the sea with doors when it burst forth, coming out of the womb,
when I made the storm clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band,
when I prescribed its limits, and set in place its bolts and doors,
when I said, ‘To here you may come and no farther,
here your proud waves will be confined?” – Job 38:8-11
When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he marked out the horizon over the face of the deep,
when he established the clouds above,
when the fountains of the deep grew strong,
when he gave the sea his decree
that the waters should not pass over his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth – Proverbs 8:27-29
You rule over the proud sea.
When its waves surge, you calm them.
You crushed Rahab [symbolic of the mythological sea serpent] and killed it;
with your strong arm you scattered your enemies.
The heavens belong to you, as does the earth.
You made the world and all it contains. – Psalm 89:9-11
He established the earth on its foundations;
it will never be upended.
The watery deep covered it like a garment;
the waters reached above the mountains.
Your shout made the waters retreat;
at the sound of your thunderous voice they hurried off—
as the mountains rose up,
and the valleys went down—
to the place you appointed for them.
You set up a boundary for them that they could not cross,
so that they would not cover the earth again. – Psalm 104:5-9
You destroyed the sea by your strength;
you shattered the heads of the sea monster in the water.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you fed him to the people who live along the coast.
You broke open the spring and the stream;
you dried up perpetually flowing rivers.
You established the cycle of day and night;
you put the moon and sun in place.
You set up all the boundaries of the earth;
you created the cycle of summer and winter. – Psalm 74:13-17
He marks out the horizon on the surface of the waters
as a boundary between light and darkness.
The pillars of the heavens tremble
and are amazed at his rebuke.
By his power he stills the sea;
by his wisdom he cut Rahab the great sea monster to pieces.
By his breath the skies became fair;
his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
Indeed, these are but the outer fringes of his ways!
How faint is the whisper we hear of him!
But who can understand the thunder of his power?” -Job 26:10-14
Am I the sea, or the creature of the deep [or “dragon”]
that you must put me under guard? – Job 7:12
**All passages from new english translation of the bible
** Several of these passages, along with the relevance of Enuma Elish for this question, were brought to my attention in God at War by Gregory Boyd, Chapter 3: “Slaying Leviathan”