All creation groans and waits for the unveiling of the sons of God…but why? Is the answer found in Genesis 3, or deeper within the Hebrew Bible?
The typical answer comes from Genesis 3. The sin of Adam and Eve – eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – caused the earth to become accursed. Because of Eve’s sin, women would suffer pain childbearing, and a desire for her husband and subjection (3:16). Because of Adam’s, men would suffer a cursed ground, pain in working the ground, and sweat and labor in working for food (3:17-19). These sins also affect the ground; therefore, the argument states, is that the curse of Genesis 3 is in mind when Paul talks about the groaning of creation. But is this the full story of Romans 8?
Paul definitely alludes to the creation accounts of Genesis 1-3, especially in Romans 1. (see the discussion of Creation/Creator) The creation account became important in Pauline schools (II Timothy 2:12-16, Ephesians 5, Romans 5, I Corinthians 15) and in early Christianity (Matthew 19), but until Second Temple Jerusalemic literature, the creation epic did not play into many narratives. Most of the Old Testament writers of the current canon of the Hebrew Bible did not attribute original sin to Adam, even! Most Hebrew commentators were more concerned with Cain’s sin than Adam’s. Paul uses the account of Adam to talk about the sin that brought death for men from the line of Adam, but earlier writers were more concerned with the sin of Cain than Adam. In fact, most Jewish commentators said that all human sin (and not only Adam’s) caused the Flood (Gen 6-9). But does that bear on our discussion, in light of the full revelation of the New Testament and Jesus Christ?
Maybe. While Jewish Scriptures may not put the emphasis on the original sin of Adam, it was important to Paul and important to our thought. But Paul was a man of first century Christianity – he was formed by surrounding first century Jewish thought. We have to look at the prophets and, to an extent, Wisdom literature to see what thought formed Paul’s thought. Remember that Paul, as a former Pharisee, would have been well-versed in all of the Hebrew Bible, not just Genesis. Recent scholarship has dated Genesis to a post-exilic composition, and unless we can prove that the oral Torah put an emphasis on the creation account, we need not elevate Genesis above any other readings.
Creation in Wisdom Literature
Job: To see Paul’s thought in Romans, we’ll take our first stop in the book of Job. After being inflicted by God, Job offers an interesting take on creation. I’ve already argued thatJob is not Satan v Job, but Satan vs. Yhwh himself. After his first infliction, Job makes an interesting cry for help invoking Creation themes. (Job 3:3-7) His life going to chaos, he wishes that all of creation itself would go to chaos, and he asks for help from those talented in mustering the Leviathan (3:8). The Leviathan (see also sea monsters, sea, Rahab) stands for chaos; Job hopes that if his life is going to chaos, heck, the whole created order should, too!
Why does Job invoke the Leviathan in relation to the creation? The Leviathan, in Jewish writings, was the sign of chaos and the enemy of Yhwh who must be conquered to foster peace. The Enuma Elish, the Iraqi creation story, tells of Marduk, the great conquerer of Tiamat, who used her body to form the world. (For the whole text of the Enuma Elish, click hereclick here. The Enuma Elish hugely influenced the writing of Genesis, but the Jewish author definitely changes some details to fir his monotheistic worldview. The chaos monster/sea/Tiamat is never named; instead, the chaos is subdued by the ru’ah of Yhwh that hovered over the waters. The ru’ah of Yhwh stilled the chaotic waters of the earth that was without form or void (tohu nobohu) as the ultimate sign that Yhwh, not Marduk, was supreme.
So where does the discussion of Job and the Elish fit into the discussion of Romans 8? They fit because I believe that they helped form Jeremiah’s thought process on Jer 4. Genesis shows that Yhwh reigned in the chaos of the world he created and then he maintains the peaceful order. Job shows an understanding of the order of Yhwh’s work, and would rather wish that if he were to suffer that the world world would suffer the chaos he does. So, maintaining these views, let’s look at Jeremiah 4:23-27.
Creation – or uncreation – in Jeremiah
Jeremiah prophecies against Judah, a sinful people who were at the time violating the Mosaic covenant. Because of their covenant infidelity, they were subject to the curses of Deuteronomy 28. But this isn’t the exact point we are focusing on: looking at Jeremiah, I believe we can make a greater link between Romans and Jeremiah than Romans and Genesis. Read the verses – Jeremiah is sure that the continued (not original!) sin of the people were the cause of the undoing of creation. Look at the structure of Jeremiah: a world tohu nobohu, without light, the land undoing itself, a lack of animals or humans and a lush world replaced by a desert. Jeremiah systematically undoes the creation order of Genesis to show how much the continued sin of Yhwh’s people affected creation. Somehow, Jeremiah says, violating a covenant with Yhwh is akin to (and apparently, actually) damaging the created order itself!
So why is this linked with Romans? Because Romans is about covenant faithfulness! The discussion of Romans was “Who are the people of God, and how should they live? Is it Jews who must live by the law? Or Gentiles and Jews united under the law?” Paul points out that nobody is faithful to the covenant – not Gentiles (1:18-32), Jews or moral teachers (2), in fact, no single person at all is completely faithful (Romans 3:9-19)! With Paul’s argument about covenant fidelity in Romans in mind, we can more clearly make the connection between Jeremiah 4 and Romans 8. Creation groans in Romans because nobody is faithful to the covenant, and this sin is affecting the created order itself. The only way for creation to be freed is that all of God’s children were revealed and a new created order was given. Thankfully, we are promised that creation will be made new (Revelation 20-22), and better, we ourselves will be made new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) by the death and resurrection of Jesus!
The point of Romans 8 is that Christians and even creation itself is groaning from continued sin, and asks: “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a) For Paul, Jesus Messiah was the ultimate cause of redemption, not just for the believer, but for all of creation. The supremacy of Christ for Paul was not individual salvation, but the salvation of humans (Romans 5) and of even creation (Romans 8). Continued sin affects believers and creation, but Jesus’ once for all sacrifice is the hope of the entire created order