THE PHYSICAL ELEMENTS OF THE FALL:
When Adam fell, humanity and the physical cosmos suffered injury: Man suffers death, and its physical predecessors, disease and decay. In addition, to human death and disease, the Fall also brought on natural death and decay. Judgment upon the physical life and environment of man has created a mismatch between man’s desire for physical life and the maintenance of that life. As will be shown in the next section, sin acts to exploit that gap between desire and reality.
You Will Surely Die
God created Adam and “put him in the garden of Eden” (Gen. 2:15). God permitted Adam the right to eat from the “every tree of the garden”, which trees were “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). However,
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. Gen. 2:17.
Genesis 3 records how Eve and then Adam ate from the tree at the instigation of the serpent. The pair “eyes were opened, and they knew they were naked” (Gen. 3:7). God then pronounces sentence upon the serpent, Eve and Adam:
14The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.
15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
16To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
17And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Genesis 3:14–19 (ESV).
This sentence is the fulfillment of the threat made by God in Genesis 2:7, “you shall surely die.” This is most especially clear in v. 19: “you are dust, and to dust you shall return”:
The words of the Lord God the man explain to him in detail the meaning of the warning, you shall surely die, which had been addressed to him in the beginning (ii.17). then had not been able to comprehend the detailed implications (see my comments, ibid.); but now, having eat of the tree of the knowledge, he is able to understand, a comprehensive explanation is given him.
While the final clause of verse 19 ties directly back to 2:17 (death promised and death sentenced), it must be noted that verse 19 comes at the end of a continuous section (beginning at verse 14) which is the discourse “peak” of the third chapter. While Westermann contends that the hypothetical original verse of the Genesis story moved directly from Genesis 3:13 (the discovery and trial of mankind) to 3:20, expulsion from the garden, he does note that 3:14-19 provide the details of the death sentence laid upon the creation: “The pronouncements of punishment have been added as a further elaboration. Expulsion from the garden and from proximity with God denotes humanity’s present state of existence with its variety of limitations.”
In short, the threat of Genesis 2:17 becomes the sentence of Genesis 3:14-19.
What Was the Nature of the Death of Adam
Collins contends that the death threatened and meted out to Adam was “spiritual” death. Calvin sets forth the death as follows:
But it is asked, what kind of death God means in this place? It appears to me, that the definition of this death is to be sought from its opposite; we must, I say, remember from what kind of life man fell. He was, in every respect, happy; his life, therefore, had alike respect to his body and his soul, since in his soul a right judgment and a proper government of the affections prevailed, there also life reigned; in his body there was no defect, wherefore he was wholly free from death. His earthly life truly would have been temporal; yet he would have passed into heaven without death, and without injury. Death, therefore, is now a terror to us; first, because there is a kind of annihilation, as it respects the body; then, because the soul feels the curse of God. We must also see what is the cause of death, namely alienation from God. Thence it follows, that under the name of death is comprehended all those miseries in which Adam involved himself by his defection; for as soon as he revolted from God, the fountain of life, he was cast down from his former state, in order that he might perceive the life of man without God to be wretched and lost, and therefore differing nothing from death. Hence the condition of man after his sin is not improperly called both the privation of life, and death. The miseries and evils both of soul and body, with which man is beset so long as he is on earth, are a kind of entrance into death, till death itself entirely absorbs him; for the Scripture everywhere calls those dead who, being oppressed by the tyranny of sin and Satan, breath nothing but their own destruction. Wherefore the question is superfluous, how it was that God threatened death to Adam on the day in which he should touch the fruit, when he long deferred the punishment? For then was Adam consigned to death, and death began its reign in him, until supervening grace should bring a remedy.
For reasons set forth in the discussion of the loss of worship, below, I strongly disagree with Calvin’s speculation that Adam, “would have passed into heaven without death”. However, in other respects, Calvin’s summation is borne out by the evidence of the sentence in 3:14-19: “Thence it follows, that under the name of death is comprehended all those miseries in which Adam involved himself by his defection”.
Therefore, while death certainly includes spiritual death (as noted by Collins) it is not limited to spiritual death:
That this involved death physical, or the dissolution of the body, is indicated by the sentence pronounced on Adam after he had fallen (ch. 3:19)
Another element in Calvin’s understanding is likewise important here. The fact that Adam was not subjected to death does not necessarily entail that Adam was immortal. Indeed, an independent immorality would seem contradicted by the text in light of the reference to the tree of life (Gen. 2:8). Moreover, even after Adam sinned, access to the tree of life seems as if it would perpetuate Adam and Eve in some sort of “undead” status, like the eternal monster in a horror movie.
As Mathews notes:
There is no suggestion from the passage, as is assumed by some, that Adam was created immortal but subsequently forfeited immortality by his sin.105 There is a difference between man’s creation, in which he receives life by the divine inbreathing (2:7), and the perpetuation of that life gained by appropriating the tree of life (cf. 3:22).106 Immortality is the trait of deity alone (1 Tim 6:16). Calvin rightly noted that without sin Adam’s “earthly life truly would have been temporal; yet he would have passed into heaven without death, and without injury,” thereby receiving eternal life.107 Perpetuating or renewing earthly life was possible through the “tree of life” (v. 9), but once sin was committed, the sanction of disobedience necessarily meant the man and woman’s expulsion from the garden and its tree of life (3:22–24).
Thus, the loss of the garden and the proximity to God necessarily would result in Adam’s death, in much the same way as depriving a man of food or water would assure his death.
As we shall see, the death of Adam entailed much more than that Adam would personally die. Such death extends to all his progeny. Gen. 5. Since the head over the physical creation now finds himself under a death sentence, the entire physical creation has been subjected to vanity: that is, to death (Rom. 8:20).
The Details of the Physical Loss to Man
A number of separate elements comprise the curse upon humanity. In this section we will examine the physical elements of the curse. In the following chapters, we will examine the curse upon man’s peace (shalom) and finally the curse upon man’s worship.
Verse 15: Brusing
The first hint of a physical element for man is found in verse 15: In this verse there is a promise of hatred between the serpent “and the woman”. That is expanded to their offspring (literally, “seed”). Finally, this seed of the woman will suffered a bruised “heel” from the serpent.
Although inchoate, this first evangel, promises the final decisive conflict between Satan and the Son of Man, Jesus. However, for our purposes little can be none of the physical suffering which humanity will suffer as a result of the promised conflict. It certainly promises to be bad (afterall, conflict with a supernatural being cannot be good). Yet, the details are unclear at this time in revelation.
Verse 16: Pain and Childbearing
Verse 16 sets forth plain elements of physical loss:
I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
In pain you shall bring forth children.
This bicola references pain twice in a short space. Since the pain relates to childbearing (not child rearing or something else), the emphasis is unquestionably upon physical pain. Westermann notes that this punishment “touch[es] what is unique and inscrutable in the life of a woman” (Westerman, 262).
An exegetical issue arises here in the first line, “multiply your pain in childbearing” (3:16). The Hebrew literally reads “your pain and your childbearing”. Westerman writes that the construction “is a typical hendiadys; it means: the pains that childbearing will bring you.” Collins explains the grammar:
ESV “your pain in childbearing” is more literally, “your pain and your pregnancy.” Grammatically, I take the “and” as a waw-explicative, and “your pregnancy” as an accusative of specification (Collins, 153, fn. 18).
While this is the most common understanding of the passage, there is a possible understanding of the passage in terms of a straight conjunction: There will be an increase in pain, and there will be increase in child bearing: Since mortality will become a fundamental aspect of human life, an increase in the rapidity of childbearing could possibly be the point of the pronouncement. Were human beings to immortal (whether with or without assistance from the Tree of Life), population of the kosmos would be no problem. Yet, where death enters into the calculus, the birth rate must exceed the death rate or the population could not continue. This would be especially acute where few humans exist.
Whether one reads God’s words as two separate events (pain and childbearing) or one event (pain in childbearing), the question remains as to whether pain preceded the Fall. The reason for this relates to the word “increase” (ESV, RSV), “multiply” (KJV, NSAB 95), “increase” (NET), “greatly increase” (NIV 84) “intensify” (HCSB). The TNIV has, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with pain you will give birth to children”. NIV reads, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.”
The pronouncement by its terms only applies to Eve’s pains in childbearing. However, one must ask whether Eve would have felt any pain in childbearing without the Fall (not severe pain, but any pain at all). The language of “increase” implies that there would have been some pain. The NIV/TNIV language of “severe” does not necessitate a prior existence of pain – although it still points to some sort of comparison. Collins comment may be the best that can be said on this topic:
The passage does not dwell on what might have been, nor even on the details of the pre-fall existence of Adam and Eve; its function is to explain how man’s current condition came about even though the Creator is good and holy, and made a world that he declared good. Collins, 162.
Genesis 3:17–19 (ESV)
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
Cursed is the Ground
This is the second of the only explicit “curses” in the judgment passage following the Fall (the first being upon the Serpent). To properly understand this curse, we must first compare the passage given which describes Adam’s creation in chapter 2:
Genesis 2:5–8 (ESV)
5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.
Even a cursory reading of the passage shows the intimate connection between Adam and the ground:
1. There was “no man to work the ground”
2. The mist watered “the whole face of the ground”.
3. The man was formed from “dust from the ground”.
4. God then planted a garden and placed the man in the garden.
The duty of Adam was further developed in Genesis 2:15 (ESV)
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
The thrust of the entire passage is to establish an intimate connection between Adam and the ground and the garden: Adam is made from the ground. The food which Adam eats comes from the trees which grow from the ground (Gen. 2:9). Adam is placed in the garden to work the ground so as to permit the garden to flourish.
In bringing on the curse, God did not disestablish the connection between Adam. If anything, God made man even more directly dependent upon the ground (and upon Adam’s working of the ground):
1. Adam will continue to eat of the ground; albeit after painful labor.
2. The ground will now bring forth thorns – which Adam will need to combat.
3. God emphasizes Adam’s dependence upon plants of the field.
4. God notes Adam having been taken from the ground.
5. Adam is sentenced to return to the ground.
Thus, upon a cursory reading of the text, a curse upon the ground is a very direct assault upon Adam’s existence and purpose. For purposes of this analysis (the physical effects of the Fall), three points need to be noted;
1. The alteration of the physical universe.
2. The pain of labor.
3. Physical death.
Alteration of the Physical Universe
This issue will be dealt with in the sections on physical death and on Romans 8:18-25.
The Pain of Labor
Adam’s painful toil directly results from change in the physical universe. While this has physical dimensions, the primary ill lies more with Adam’s relationship to labor – as opposed to the difficulty of physical labor. This can be seen by considering the effect of strenuous physical exertion: Many types of strenuous physical exertion are considered to be pleasurable: in particular, all sorts of athletic endeavors. The sheer physical difficulty is often considered to be a benefit and source of enjoyment.
Thus, to understand the pain of labor we must more at the frustration of such labor rather than the bare physical exertion.
The question of physical death entails three subissues: (1) Would Adam have lived forever but for the curse? Would he have lived forever if he had eaten from the Tree of Life after he had sinned? (2) What is meant by Adam’s death and the threat of death (Gen. 2:17)? (3) Did the Fall and curse bring about animal death?
The fact of Adam’s death having been dealt with above, we shall look only at the third issue: Did the Fall bring about animal death? The debate about this question has primarily been a question of the age of the creation: Old or Young Earth?
If one is to permit the existence of animal death prior to the Fall, then one must a serious moral and theological question well beyond the question of the age of the earth. Charles Darwin made this problem plain:
In constructing the argument for his theory of evolution, Darwin repeatedly argued that God would never have created the world that the nineteenth century naturalists were uncovering. Shortly after going public with his theory, Darwin wrote a friend: “There seems to be too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent God would have designedly created the [parasitic wasp] with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that the cat should play with mice.”
Darwin’s concern makes plain the problem of pushing natural evil into the pre-Fall world: If such death and misery were part of the “very good” creation, then how good is God?
Now, we must be careful not to the read the Bible in such a way as to merely avoid hard questions. If the Bible teaches animal misery before the Fall, then we must be prepared to accept that fact. Thus, if one finds an “Old” creation compelling, one must pointedly embrace suffering before the Fall, as does Rev. Lee Irons in an essay on whether death proceeded the Fall:
If the above sketch is anywhere near to the actual historical truth, it implies that plants and animals died before the Fall. According to the fossil record nature was “red in tooth and claw.” In view of the vast ages between the first evidence of life and the appearance of man, this description would necessarily be true prior to the Fall. But this conception of the pre-Fall state presents a jarring contrast with the typical Sunday School picture of Adam and Eve in the garden, dwelling peacefully in an idyllic state, where all the animals were herbivores and the wolf was dwelling with the lamb.
Appealing to the biblical doctrine of the Fall and the subsequent curse, many young earth creationists have argued that the Fall of man was the event that introduced biological death into creation. Prior to Adam’s sin, they argue, there was no death in the human or animal realms, and no predatory behavior among the animals.
The commentators can be lined up on either side of the issue. Often times, the primary motivating factor is the question of whether to reconcile Genesis with the apparent age of the universe. If the universe is old, then death preceded the Fall. If the earth is young, death followed the Fall.
James Stambaugh, in his essay, “Whence Cometh Death? A Biblical Theology of Physical Death and Natural Evil” in Coming to Grips With Genesis sets out the basic scheme of the young earth position. Collins makes the basic case for at least agnosticism on the question of whether animal death proceeded the Fall:
Further, nothing here says that animals were never carnivorous until man fell. It is true that Genesis 1:29-30 says that man and animals were given plants to eat, but it does not say that they ate nothing else. And even if we take it as prescribing a vegetarian diet for these animals, it only applies to creatures that live on land; that is, it says noting about anything that lives in the water, many of which are carnivorous ….Indeed, Psalm 104 – which celebrates the proper functioning of creation – includes an appreciation for the large carnivores…. [¶] In the same way, it is a mistake to read Genesis 2:17 as implying that physical death did not affect the creation before the fall….[T]he focus of this death is spiritual death; and notice that the threat is addressed to Adam alone (the “you” is masculine singular) and is then appropriated by the woman (3:2-3). It applies to human beings and says nothing about the animals.
Collins makes the argument as forcefully as it can be made: (1) The text does not explicitly teach animal death (indeed, the companion text of Romans 5:12-14 deals primarily if not solely with human death); (2) God likes carnivores, which implies that before the Fall they were as carnivores “very good” and (3) the death threatened was only “spiritual” death.
In addition to the arguments which will proceed below, based upon, Genesis 2:5 & 3:18, Romans 8 and the ministry of Jesus, I will make the following brief observations.
First, the Genesis text does not explicitly discuss animal death. But arguments from silence are notoriously weak. The only exception is where one states I am going to fully cover some subject and then omits a reference: For example, if I tell you I am going to name all my children and give you a series of names, it is appropriate to infer that I have no other children. God nowhere says that he is going to explicitly discuss animal death prior to the Fall. Therefore, the absence of an express threat, You will die and the animals will die, too proves nothing. However, there are other elements which imply that the animal world was not horrifically miserable: (1) the creation was “very good”; (2) the land animals (at the very least) were given plants to eat; (3) Adam as the viceroy of creation has profound effect upon the remainder of creation: (a) only after Adam eats are Eve’s eyes “opened” (Gen. 3:7); (b) Adam’s fall subjected the entire creation to “futility” (Rom. 8:20); (c) God cursed explicitly at least the ground on the account of Adam’s sin; (d) therefore, it is at least implicit that Adam’s fall would have some effect upon the animals generally.
Second, that God carnivores even in a post-Fall world can give glory to God tells us nothing about whether such animals were carnivores prior to the Fall. God boasts of the Leviathan in Job 41 and then says he will destroy the Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1. Moreover, the argument proves too much, because everything gives glory to God. For example, Peter’s death gives glory to God (John 21:19). The greatest crime ever committed, the murder of Jesus, gives glory to God. The fact that God can gain glory even from rank evil does not make the evil good.
Third, the “spiritual” death argument actually contends for the opposite conclusion. Collins writes that the death referenced in Genesis 2:17 is “spiritual death, estrangement from God.” (Collins, 175). He then writes:
Physical mortality, which Genesis 3:19 predicts [a “prediction” by God is not a mere guess, but a certainty], is a consequence of the human’s disrupted condition. Collins 175
If physical death is a nature consequence of a disrupted relationship between God and man, then there would be no reason to believe that death would be part of a pre-Fall world. Thus, calling the death of Genesis 2:17 “spiritual death” does not lead to the conclusion that physical death – of Adam or of any other thing – existed prior to the Fall.
In short, nothing in the text gives any support for the contention that death preceded the Fall. The plain reading of the text supports the conclusion that death – physical and spiritual – was the result of the Fall. Nothing in the text supports the conclusion that animal death existed prior to the Fall. Rather, the implication of the Creation being “very good” prior to the Fall implies the absence of death.
The conclusion that the physical universe was damaged as a result of the Fall is further supported by Romans 8:18-25.
Romans 8:18–25 (ESV)
18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
There are two points which we must see this text: (1) the status of the physical creation is bound up with the status of human beings; (2) the physical creation has been subjected to futility; (3) the creation will be released from that corruption by means of humanity’s full redemption.
Humanity Affects the Subhuman Creation.
Commenting upon verse 19, Moo writes:
With the majority of modern commentators, then, I think that Creation here denotes the “subhuman” creation. Like the psalmists and prophets who pictured hills, meadows, and valleys “shouting and singing together for joy” (Ps. 65:12-13) and the earth “mourning” (Isa. 24:4; Jer. 4:28; 12:4), Paul personifies the subhuman creation in order to convey to his readsers a sense of the cosmic significance of both humanity’s fall into sin and the believers’ restoration to glory.
Paul goes on to make clear the relationship between subhuman creation and Adam’s sin. In verse 20 that the “creation was subjected to futility” and yet that the creation “will be set free from its bondage to corruption” (v. 21). This raises two questions: (1) when was the creation subjected to such “futility” and (2) when it will be “set free”. The related issue of what is meant by “futility” and “corruption” will be discussed below.
Moo explains the cause of the subjection to futility as follows:
The reason, Pauls says, is that the submhuman creation itself is not what it should be, or what God intended it to be. It has “been subjected to frustration.” In light of Paul’s obvious reference to the Gen. 3 narrative – Murray lables these verses “Paul’s commentary on Gen. 3:17, 18” – the word probably denotes the “frustration” occasioned by creation’s being unable to attain the ends for which it was made. Humanity’s fall into sin marred the “goodness” of God’s creation, and creation has ever since been in a state of “frustration.”
Paul states that such futility/frustration/corruption will remain in place until:
Adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Rom. 8:23
This unquestionably refers to the final physical resurrection of the redeemed. Thus, when human beings get their new bodies, the physical world will be liberated from futility and corruption.
What is Meant by “Futility”
Creation, helplessly enslaved to the decay [fn. 47] that rules this world after the Fall, exists in the hop ethat it will be set free to participate in the eschatological glory to be enjoyed by God’s children.
Fn. 47: Gk. ths douleias ths fqoras can denote “destruction” (cf. Gal. 6:8 for eschatological condemnation), but, with reference here to the subhuman creation, probably rather refers to “decay,” combining the ideas of mutability and corruption (cf. Col. 2:22; 1 Cor. 15:42, 50).
While the word “futility” (Gk. mataioths) is used only twice more in the NT – Eph. 4:17 and 2 Pet. 2:18 – it does have a significant usage in the LXX in Ecclesiastes. Indeed, it seems that in choosing the particular word mataitoths to describe the subhuman creation, Paul makes a deliberate allusion to Solomon’s reflection on the world without God.
Therefore, to understand what Paul means by “futility” we should consider what Solomon means by “vanity.” SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1The lexical entries for הֶבֶל (Gk. mataioths) begin with the base meaning which is “warm breath, vapor” hence, that which is “transitory”, vain, or an idol.
“In the final analysis, the meaning of the word in Ecclesiastes must be decided on the basis of the immediate context.” Longman, 64. Longman then makes an important caveat on the “context” for understanding the word, “The problem with considering the context of the refrain is that it depends on the meaning of the whole book.” Ibid.
Since Longman discounts Solomonic authorship and attributes the prologue and the epilogue to a separate hand )the “frame narrator”(, Longman reads wholly orthodox provisions such as 12:13-14 concerning God’s interaction with creation in a different manner than he reads the similar statements God’s judgment, knowledge, provision, made within the Qohelet narrative. Since this is so, Longman concludes that הֶבֶל means “meaningless” (as it is translated by the NIV3).
הֶבֶל in Ecclesiastes emphasizes the transitory nature of the natural world, its “vanity” or “futility” (see the NASB translation of הֶבֶל in Ecclesiastes 2:1) as opposed to utter meaninglessness. Solomon does find some value in the objects of life; however, such usefulness or enjoyment is not complete – it is merely provisional4. This conclusion is grounded in the text of Ecclesiastes and is consistent with the greater context of the Bible, particularly the Fall (Genesis 3) and the subjection of the creation to “futility” (Romans 8:20)5.
The introductory poem (1:2-11) contains an initial conclusion that all things are vain6. The poem then proceeds to detail the basis on which the conclusion is made. The reasons given, in quick succession are: )a( there is no profit in work )1:2(, )b( humans die )1:4(, )c( the natural order is maddeningly repetitious to no apparent end )1:5-7(, )d( all things are wearisome )1:8(, )e( natural things are insufficient to satisfy the senses, as soon as a things is had, there is a desire for more )1:8(; )f( nothing is new )1:9-10(; )g( nothing is remembered )1:11(.
With the exception of the statement that “the earth remains forever” )1:4(, the things listed in the prologue all are necessarily temporal or transitory, nothing stays7. As Garrett notes
in his discussion of הֶבֶל Ecclesiastes, “Everything is transitory and therefore of no lasting value. People are caught in the trap of the absurd and pursue empty pleasures. They build their lives on lies.” Garrett, 283. This is consistent with Rabbinic writings on Ecclesiastes, “As Ibn Yachya explains, man gains nothing in toiling for possessions which are subject to the limitations of time.8”
Solomon’s judgment of vanity comes at the end of sustained investigation of wisdom, madness and folly. Eccl. 1:179. The discussion in chapter 2 underscores this evaluation. After concluding that pleasure is “futility” )Ecc. 2:1(, Solomon asks the telling question of laughter, “What does it accomplish?” Eccl. 2:210. This question haunts Solomon’s recollection of all his material acquisition and work. In language which points backward to Eden and forward to Revelation 18 )this passage interestingly contains echoes of the historical descriptions of Solomon’s wealth(, Solomon recounts the vast accumulation of possession and people and ends with the conclusion that, “all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.” Eccl. 2:11. The section, bracketed with the question in verse 2 and the conclusion in verse 11, leaves material possessions as of questionable valuable11.
Solomon then continues with his comments on the vanity of work. He notes that he cannot keep the results of his work, but it must be left to another. )2:19( This is “vanity”, which caused him to “completely disapair][”. )2:19-20(. The telling question as to labor comes in verse 22: “What does a man get in all his labor”? This question effectively mirrors the question of verse three, “What does it accomplish?” In the case of our subject, Todd, there is the further question, “For whom is he working?” Eccl. 4:8. To work so hard for no one else is a particular instance of vanity.
If this were the last word on the subject, then perhaps it would be appropriate to define הֶבֶל as “meaningless”. However, Solomon goes onto find some value in his work.
In Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, Solomon refers to a man seeing his work as “good” and a source of “enjoyment”. Yet note that the references to “good” and “enjoyment” are not made in an absolute sense but rather in the context of a thing “from the hand of God.” Eccl. 2:2412. Solomon pointedly notes that no one can have enjoyment “without Him”. Eccl. 2:25. He also says that God gives “wisdom and knowledge and joy”.13
From this selection we may make the tentative conclusion that life under the sun when viewed absolutely, in isolation from its status as a creature is a vain thing. Yet, creatures have positive value and can be a source of joy and enjoyment when seen as creatures. To use Augustine’s imagery, things may be used, but must not become s diversion from our destination.
This does not mean that the creation is wholly valueless or meaningless. The avoidance of the alienation caused by the Fall and subsequent futility is remedied by right relationship to and understanding of God. Without this understanding, the creation is vain.
The rupture between most modern existentialists and Qoheleth occurs precisely at the recognition of a higher level of meaning: for the existentialist, meaning escapes man because there is no reference point outside of humanity to give life meaning; for Qoheleth, meaning may be elusive and cause the feeling of hebel, but nevertheless, meaning exists because God exists14.
Both Paul and Solomon enjoin work and permit pleasure. However, conduct must be done with an eye toward God to have any value )since the value does not reside in the cursed thing alone(. See, e.g., Col. 3:22-24. The world can provide no value or happiness except when used with an eye to its status as a creature.
Indeed, created things seem to become poisonous when deprived of a right relationship to God. They are a sort of stagnant pond which brews pestilence. Yet, even their pestilence, their vanity serves a purpose of God:
It is of great importance that this character of our earthly existence, . . . should become so distinctly a matter of consciousness, that men shall not seek to gild over their misery by vain fancies. Only thus can the vanity to which we are subjected have its right operation, answer its purpose, which is to drive us back to God whom we have foresaken . . . .15
The very vanity of misused creation is embeded in the fabric of things to remind us of the fall and to warn us off from misuse16.
From this analysis of הֶבֶל we see that “futility” or “frustration” to which the creation was subjected means that the creation in its present state is “unable to obtain the ends for which it was made.” It is a systematic deformity in the physical world which extends to all things. It reaches down into the physical creation and reaches up to humanity’s relationship with God. It covers all elements of shalom (which will discussed in the next chapter).
What is Meant by Corruption
Paul has paired the concept of futility/vanity/frustration to the concept of corruption the descriptor for the status of the subhuman creation following Adam’s fall. We have seen that by futility/vanity/frustration Paul means that the physical world cannot be what it was meant to be. That shows the physical creation in terms of its intended use being lost: that is, it describes the damage in terms of relationship to an ideal.
The concept of corruption focuses on the physical creation as it now in itself. It is not merely frustrated because it cannot be used rightly. It is actually corrupt. The BDAG gives a useful overview of the usage of this particular term:
φθορά, ᾶς, ἡ (Aeschyl., Hdt.+; ins, pap, LXX, En; PsSol 4:6; SibOr 2, 9; Philo; Jos., Ant. 18, 373; Mel., P. 49, 351; Ath., R. 16 p. 67, 24 al.)
① breakdown of organic matter, dissolution, deterioration, corruption, in the world of nature (Galen, In Hippocr. De Natura Hominis Comm. 45 p. 25, 6 Mewaldt γένεσις κ. φθορά=coming into being and passing away; 51 p. 28, 11 γένεσις κ. φθορὰ σώματος.—The cause of destruction is made clear by an addition. Cp. Plut., Artox. 1019 [16, 6] concerning Mithridates, who was allowed to decompose while he was still alive: εὐλαὶ κ. σκώληκες ὑπὸ φθορᾶς κ. σηπεδόνος ἀναζέουσιν=maggots and worms swarmed as a result of the destruction and putrefaction [of his body]) τροφὴ φθορᾶς perishable food IRo 7:3. ἅ ἐστιν πάντα εἰς φθορὰν τῇ ἀποχρήσει all of which are meant for destruction by being consumed Col 2:22. Of animals who are destined to be killed 2 Pt 2:12a (X., Cyr. 7, 5, 64; Artem. 1, 78 p. 74, 27.—Schol. on Nicander, Ther. 795 explains κακόφθορα by saying that it designates animals τὰ ἐπὶ κακῇ φθορᾷ τεχθέντα=born to come to an evil end, i.e. destruction).—Of the state of being perishable (opp. ἀφθαρσία as Philo, Mos. 2, 194; Mel., Ath.) 1 Cor 15:42; also concrete, that which is perishable vs. 50. ἡ δουλεία τῆς φθορᾶς slavery to decay Ro 8:21. [ἀπ]ὸ φθορᾶς γεγ[ονός] that which comes from the perishable Ox 1081 13f (=Coptic SJCh 89, 11f; the restoration φθορᾶς pap ln. 12 also corresponds to the Coptic version; for the correct restoration of pap ln. 23 s. under διαφορά).
② destruction of a fetus, abortion (cp. SIG 1042, 7 [II/III A.D.] φθορά=miscarriage [which makes the mother unclean for 40 days] and φθόριον=a means of producing abortion) οὐ φονεύσεις ἐν φθορᾷ B 19:5; D 2:2.—On the topic of abortion s. Soranus, Gyn. 64f (procedures); Plut., Mor. 242c (διαφθείρω); SDickison, Abortion in Antiquity: Arethusa 6, ’73, 159–66.
③ ruination of a pers. through an immoral act, seduction of a young woman (Demetr.: 722 Fgm. 1, 9 Jac.; Diod S 3, 59, 1; 5, 62, 1; Plut., Mor. 712c; Jos., Ant. 17, 309, C. Ap. 2, 202) w. μοιχεία (Philo, Det. Pot. Ins. 102) 2 Cl 6:4.
④ inward depravity, depravity (Ex 18:18; Mi 2:10) ἡ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἐν ἐπιθυμίᾳ φθορά the depravity that exists in the world because of inordinate desire (opp. θεία φύσις) 2 Pt 1:4. δοῦλοι τῆς φθορᾶς 2:19. Vs. 12b (s. 5 below) scarcely belongs here.
⑤ total destruction of an entity, destruction in the last days Gal 6:8 (opp. ζωὴ αἰώνιος). ἐν τῇ φθορᾷ αὐτῶν καὶ φθαρήσονται when they (the dumb animals) are destroyed in the coming end of the world, these (the false teachers), too, will be destroyed (so BWeiss, Kühl, JMayor, Windisch, Knopf, Vrede) 2 Pt 2:12b.—DELG s.v. θείρω. M-M. TW. Sv.
As one can see by the usage of this particular word, Paul incorporates the concept of death as physical cessation of life and expands it to all forms of decay and destruction. The breakdown the entropy of the physical world is a direct result of Adam’s fall.
The TDNT further explains such “corruption” is that which ends in death and which makes a thing unfit for God’s presence.
The group is often used to denote the corruptibility of man, his subjection to death. Paul has in view the outward man who experiences death in himself (2 C. 4:16), not as a once-for-all event, but as an ongoing process, as the ἀνακαινοῦται ἡμέρᾳ καὶ ἡμέρᾳ shows. The fact that the body is given up to death and destruction is often stated in Greek and later Jewish writings (→ VII, 102, 13 ff.; 116, 4 ff.).44 Man is φθαρτός (R. 1:23) precisely in antithesis to the ἄφθαρτος θεός. But the wreath sought in worldly contests (→ I, 137, 24 ff.) is also φθαρτός as distinct from the eternal goal of the Christian life, 1 C. 9:25. τὸ φθαρτόν is man’s existence in the world as this is controlled by the σάρξ. ἀφθαρσία, a new mode of being, must be imparted to him, 1 C. 15:53. Christians are not redeemed with φθαρτοῖς (“corruptible”) means such as ἀργυρίῳ ἢ χρυσίῳ, but by the blood of Christ, which is indestructible, which is a divine means, and which is thus said to be τίμιος, 1 Pt. 1:18.45 Opposed to the σπορὰ φθαρτή is the ἄφθαρτος λόγος by which Christians are begotten as new men, 1 Pt. 1:23.46 In this connection φθορά (R. 8:21) means “corruptibility,” and it elucidates the ματαιότης of v. 20. φθορᾶς is a gen. qualitatis, not obj., in relation to δουλεία, so that we have a counterpart of ἐλευθερία τῆς δόξης.47 φθορά is the “corruptibility” which must pass away, as flesh and blood must also pass away, 1 C. 15:50. Yet the concept is not merely that of decay and subjection to it.48 As ζωή corresponds to πνεῦμα, so φθορά does to σάρξ, and in Gl. 1:8 this means “eternal destruction” (→ I, 396, 18 ff.) and undoubtedly much more than mere decay. Both φθορά and ζωή are to be understood eschatologically, so that only the parousia brings the corruptible to light as such. φθορά is displayed in its quality as corruptibility only with the manifestation of the incorruptible and not in the daily experience of the natural man. In both the instances in 2 Pt. (1:4; 2:19) φθορά again means “corruptibility” and not moral corruption. What is meant seems to be the world of the φθαρτόν, in the late Hell. sense → 96, 8 ff. Moral failure consists in succumbing ἐν ἐπιθυμίᾳ (1:4) to corruptibility as though this were the one essential thing: δοῦλοι ὑπάρχοντες τῆς φθορᾶς, 2:19.
The dead will rise again as ἄφθαρτοι, changed and belonging to a new world, 1 C. 15:52.52 In the later epistles of the Pauline corpus there is increasing reference to the ἄφθαρτον and ἀφθαρσία under developing Hell. influence. God is lauded here as the ἄφθαρτος (→ 96, 15 ff.), 1 Tm. 1:1753 → III, 112, 9 ff.; cf. R. 1:23. Also ἄφθαρτος is the κληρονομία into which Christians will one day enter. The adjectives ἀμίαντος, ἀμάραντος and ἄφθαρτος show that this belongs to God, 1 Pt. 1:4.54 The ἄφθαρτον can be more precisely defined in terms of πνεῦμα: ἐν τῷ ἀφθάρτῳ55 τοῦ πραέος καὶ ἡσυχίου πνεύματος, 1 Pt. 3:4. Here again τὸ ἄφθαρτον denotes the sphere, environment and mode of being in which man moves with a meek and quiet spirit in contrast to that governed by the φθαρτόν. ἀφθαρσία as well as ἄφθαρτον stands in antithesis to the φθαρτόν. Eph. 6:24 is difficult to expound (→ VII, 778, 16 ff.): ἡ χάρις μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἀγαπώντων τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ. If one takes ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ with χάρις, the meaning is: “with incorruptibility,” and both ἀφθαρσία and χάρις characterise the mode of being in supraterrestrial life. But there is not much to commend this. If instead one takes it with Χριστός or ἀγαπῶντες, then it denotes the new and heavenly mode of existence of Christ or Christians. If one does not relate it to Χριστόν as the nearest word, and there is much to be said for this, then the whole verse must be understood as a concluding liturgical salutation. In this case ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ amounts to much the same as “in eternity” and shows that the wish is one that is to be fulfilled in eternity: “Grace be in incorruptibility, unceasingly, with those who love Jesus Christ.” With ζωή, ἀφθαρσία is the “future eternal life” which Christ has brought as a light into the dark, corruptible world, 2 Tm. 1:10. Mostly for Paul ἀφθαρσία is a strictly future blessing of salvation which is understood in exclusively eschatological terms → 104, 16 ff., It will be manifested only with the parousia, 1 C. 15:42, 50, 53 f. Like the divine δόξα and τιμή, it is still to be sought after here on earth and it always remains hidden (R. 2:7). There is similarity here to the way in which apocalyptic speaks of the incorruptibility we are to wait for.
Thus, the thing which is subject to corruption is that which is not fit for the eternal state. This understanding is confirmed by Paul’s discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:
The first major contrast or component of discontinuity is marked by ἐν φθορᾷ … ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ. It is customary for exegetes to understand this simply as a contrast of duration: perishable … imperishable (NRSV, REB, NIV, NJB); in corruption … in incorruption (AV/KJV): in mortality … in immortality (Collins). This entirely reflects the meaning of ἀφθαρσία in lexicography, where most instances denote incorruptibility, immortality, e.g., in Philo, Plutarch, Ignatius, and LXX (Wisdom, 4 Maccabees).58 However, since 1964 I have consistently held that φθορά is the term within the semantic opposition that carries the decisive content, in relation to which the contrast is signaled by the alpha privative. φθορά denotes “decreasing capacities and increasing weaknesses, issuing in exhaustion and stagnation,” i.e., in a state of decay.59 In the LXX φθορά regularly translates either of two Hebrew words: שׁחת (shachat) and חבל (chebel). The force of שׁחת and its cognate forms conveys not only destruction or termination but also mutilation. In the Niph’al it may denote to be marred, spoiled, while the Hiph’il form means to pervert or to corrupt (in a moral sense).60 The semantic contrast to such decay would not be permanence or everlasting duration, but ethical, aesthetic, and psychosocial flourishing and abundance, even perhaps perfection, and certainly fullness of life. The second Hebrew word, חבל, denotes a semantic range beginning with vapor or breath and extending through to vanity, emptiness, fruitlessness. The full force of the word finds expression in Isa 49:4: “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity” (NRSV).61 The semantic contrast now lies with the purposive progression of dynamic life-processes, in which satisfaction or delight is based on what is substantial and solid.
In the light of these considerations, the life of the new raised body is not merely incorruptible (AV/KJV, Vulgate, incorruptio) or imperishable (REB, NRSV, et al.) but decay’s reversal, i.e., a solidity of progressive, purposive flourishing in fullness of life. This is entirely compatible with two theological considerations: (a) First, bodily or somatic (Dahl) existence is not a reduction or “thinning down” of a supposedly bodiless mode of being; this is the “bloodless, juiceless existence” of Sheol. Body provides the vehicle of communicative flourishing and identity recognition in the public, intersubjective domain of community.62 (b) Second, to be raised by and through God in the power of the Holy Spirit entails a dynamic of being that corresponds with the dynamic of the living God who acts purposively in ongoing ways, never “trapped” in a timeless vacuum from which all experience of succession is excluded (see further on v. 44).63 This is more than imperishability (NRSV, REB, NIV, NJB) or immortality (Collins).
That Which is Vain and Corrupt
What can we conclude then from this short look at Romans 8:18-25? As a direct result of Adam’s sin, the physical world has been subjected to futility (it cannot fulfill that end for which God created it) and corruption (it is to defilement and decay). In short, the physical creation as it now stands is not (1) fit for the eternal state; and (2) is not good – much less “very good”. The world became this way because of Adam’s sin and will remain this way until God redeems humanity and clothes them in new bodies. While the death which entered into the world because of sin is primarily human death (Rom. 5:12), we should not conclude that the death of man has no effect upon the remainder of creation. Rather, Paul makes plain that human sin and death has caused systemic corruption of the entire physical creation such that futility and corruption are the distinguishing characteristics of this present age.
Uncleanness Resulting From Contact With Dead Animals
Another line of evidence which suggests that death did not precede the Fall comes from the law in Leviticus 11. [If the Garden was a temple, Adam would necessarily have had to remain clean – the lack of regulation concerning cleanness/uncleanness (contact with death or sin) did not exist prior to the Fall –therefore, no regulation of it for Adam. Implication: no death prior to the Fall. But what of the swarming animals – they are unclean – they are unclean for touching if they are dead (11:31; they are also unclean for eating, but not for being near if they are alive.]
The Pulpit Commentary: Genesis, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004), 46.
K. A. Mathews, vol. 1A, Genesis 1-11:26, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 211-12.
3 Longman, 65; “The NIV consistently translates it as ‘meaningless,’ but in many passages this falls short of the mark.” Garrett (1993), 283.
4 Commenting on Ecclesiastes 1:3, Lloyd writes, “Note that the sentiment in this verse does not contradict Prov. xiv. 23, ‘in all labor there is profit,’ for the reference here is to vain efforts of man to acquire perfect happiness in the present life. To seek from the world that which is not to be found in it is to ‘spend labor on that which satisfieth not.’ Is. lv.2.” J. Lloyd, An Analysis of the Book of Ecclesiastes, (London, Samuel Bagster & Sons, London, 1874) 6. See, John Murray, The Epsitle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans 1968) 303.
5 “He anticipated what Paul said in Romans 8:20, that the whole created order has been subjected to this futility. Human beings, struggling to live, meet frustration at every turn (v.3). One looks back to the record of sin’s entry into man’s life (7:29; Gen 3). Man chose to become self-centered and self-guided rather than remaining God-centered and God-guided. Thus man became earthbound and frustrated, and this book demonstrates that there is no firm foundation under the sun for earthbound man to build on so as to find meaning, satisfaction, and the key to existence.” Stafford J. Wright, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), 1152. See, rev. W. Sanday, Romans (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons,1896) 208. For the relationship of “hebel” to Genesis creation account and the naming of Abel see, Duane Garrett, “Ecclesiastes 7:25-29 and the Feminist Hermeneutic” Criswell Theological Review Vol. 2.2 (1988), 309-321. See also, Solomon Reflects on Genesis, J. MacArthur, The MacArthur study Bible : New American Standard Bible, (Ec 4:7-12). (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 915.
6 For a complete list of vanities, see, “The ‘Vanities’ of Ecclesiastes 1:2-12:8, MacArthur (2006), 912.
7 The transitory nature of life is brutal fact of existence and a not uncommon mediation of modern philosophy and art, summed up in the phrase “Einmal is keinmal.” Longman makes the observation on verses 6:6, “Death spoils the enjoyment of life, however long.” 172. The contrasting concept of “profit” also supports this conclusion: “[Y]ithron is something that is not material, not obtainable on earth. We think it can be defined and perhaps best translated as ‘lasting benefit.’” G.S. Ogden, & L. Zogbo, L., A Handbook on Ecclesiastes (Logos Software 1998) no page reference.
8 Koheles, ed. Zlotowitz (Broolyn, Mesorah Pub. Ltd. 1976, 1989) 53.
9 See, comments on Eccl. 1:16-17 & comments on 2:12a, Street, J., Lecture 4.
10 Qoheleth elsewhere in this book exhorts to gladness in a moderate, contented use of the gifts of Divine providence . . . but here he condemns an extravagant pursuit of mirth as an object of life, a source of real happiness.” Lloyd, 22.
11 “If he could carry the earth along with him, he might haply promise himself his wonted contentments; but the earth abides where it was, when he goeth from it, can enjoy it no more.” Reynolds, 45.
12 See, Robert Gordis, Koheleth, The Man and His World (New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, Bloch, New York, 1955) 216.
13 Ardel B. Caneday, “Qoheleth: Enigmatic Pessimist or Godly Sage”, Grace Theological Journal 7.1 (1986): 49. Pemble makes an interesting comment along these lines, “What is the only good that can be found in all worldly things? The world is not mere rack and engine to torment men’s minds and bodies: Some comfort is to be found in the use of earthly thing, which Solomon now describes [beginning in Eccl. 2:24]. In a word, it is that which 1 Tim. 6 is called contentment joined with godliness, this only makes a man master of the utmost comfort worldly things can afford”. 291. The observation that true enjoyment of work comes from the hand of God is not inconsistent with Pemble’s observation that contentment comes with godliness. This makes an interesting comment on Longman’s observation that Qohelet had not received the gift of contentment in work which comes from God. Longman, 123. If one understands the work to be of an unrepentant Solomon, we would of course expect no contentment in the live of a man who had been notoriously wicked.
14 N. Karl Haden, “Qoheleth and the Problem of Alienation” Christian Scholars Review 17 (1987): 59.
15 Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, A Commentary on Ecclesiastes (Edinburgh, Clark’s Foreign Theological Library, 1869) 45. See, also, Shank, 63.
16 “We vain creatures trouble ourselves about these transitory nothings, as if they would continue with us for all eternity, and had some solid, durable enjoyment and satisfaction in them; whereas they whither like flowers while we smell at them.” Thomas Manton, Manton’s Complete Works, Vol. 12 Sermon XXVII on Romans 8 (Worthington: Maranatha Publishing, no publication date) 159. As William Pemble wrote, there is “a necessary divorce between us and all that we enjoy. Death will part us asunder”. Pemble, 290.
William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1054-55.
, vol. 9, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-), 103-05.