|Vol. 1, No. 7||Page 5||July 1999|
When The Creation Is Delivered
The most difficult aspect of this narrative is the allusion to "the creation," and particularly what is meant by Paul's affirmation that the "whole creation" anxiously anticipates its deliverance from the bondage of corruption. How is the term "creation" employed in this setting?
The matter cannot be ascertained merely by looking at the word ktisis (creation) for that expression is used in a variety of senses in the Bible. For example: (a) It is employed of the material creation in some passages (Romans 1:20, 25; Colossians 1:15). (b) At other times, it denotes humanity in general (Mark 16:15; Colossians 1:23). (c) It also is used occasionally in a special sense of Christians (Galatians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17). It is obvious, therefore, that the context must determine the meaning of the word in a particular setting.
With reference to "the creation" in Romans 8:19ff, Paul affirms that the creation was subjected to the bondage of corruption, and that ultimately there is a promised deliverance from that state into a new glorious existence. What is the meaning of this controversial promise?
First, millennialists assert that this context contains the pledge of a restoration of the entire material/physical creation at the time Christ returns to establish an earthly kingdom (see Robert Shank, Until - The Coming of Messiah and His Kingdom, p. 23). One preacher has even argued, on the basis of Romans 8, that his pet poodle will be in heaven!
Such theories, however, cannot represent the correct view of this passage. The Bible clearly teaches that the material universe will utterly be destroyed at the second coming of Christ (Matthew 24:35; 2 Peter 3:1-13; Revelation 21:1). Moreover, no eternal reward has been provided for animals (cf. 2 Peter 2:12). No interpretation can be placed upon Romans 8:19ff which forces these verses into conflict with other clear affirmations regarding the fate of this earth. An obscure passage must yield to the clearer.
Second, does "the creation" refer to the "unredeemed portion of humanity" (Burton Coffman, Commentary on Romans, p. 305)? That hardly seems likely for Paul asserts that this creation will be delivered "into the liberty of the glory of the children of God" (21). How is that applicable to the unbelieving world? Nothing but a resurrection of condemnation awaits unregenerate humanity (John 5:29). Moreover, elsewhere the Bible establishes the principle that those out of harmony with God do not live in joyful anticipation of coming judgment; they await such in fear and trembling (cf. Isaiah 33:14; Hebrews 10:27).
Third, does the phrase "the creation" refer to the church? Obviously not, for "the creation" is said to look forward to the revealing of the sons of God (19). In addition, the apostle declares: "And not only so, but ourselves also ... groan ... waiting for our adoption" (23). It is clear that Christians are treated as a group separate from "the creation."
What, then, is the meaning of this controversial context wherein the "whole creation" appears to anticipate deliverance? The most reasonable explanation seems to be this. Paul, in these passages, has personified the creation. He figuratively represents it as longing for deliverance as a prelude to that time when its purpose shall have been completed. When God's redemptive plan is brought to fruition, earthly affairs are ended. The righteous will obtain their reward in "the new heavens and the new earth" (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1), which is heaven itself (see my book, Select Studies in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 13). Just as there is a link between man's physical body and his new, resurrected spiritual body, even so, figuratively, there is a connection between the present creation and a new creation wherein eternal righteousness abides.
This type of argument is not without precedent in the
Scriptures. In Psalm 114, the inspired writer describes the deliverance
of Jehovah's people from Egyptian bondage. In conjunction with that glorious
event, various elements of the creation are depicted as cooperating with,
and rejoicing at, Israel's freedom. The sea saw it and fled, the mountains
skipped as rams, the hills frolicked like little lambs, and the earth trembled.
The Old Testament is replete with this type of symbolism (cf. Psalms 96:12;
98:8; Isaiah 35:1; 55:12). No one contends that the language in these passages
is literal. In view of other clear biblical indications, why should such
an assumption be made with reference to Romans 8? There is simply no need