God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey
Chapter 2 – Scripture on the Fall
We will continue our review of God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey. Today is Chapter 2 – Scripture on the Fall. In Chapter 2 – Scripture on the Fall, Jon discusses those passages of scripture typically used to justify the idea of a fallen creation. He begins with Genesis 2:15-17:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Jon notes, after John Walton and others, that “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” is a merism indicating “discerning and discriminating wisdom”, which is consistent with Eve’s observation that the fruit was “desirable for gaining wisdom”. Since elsewhere in scripture wisdom is both desirable and offered as a gift of God (Proverbs 1-9), Jon supposes that God always intended for Adam to gain wisdom by a learning process and communion with him.
Jon specifically notes that the warning was given to Adam alone, and the penalty for disobedience – death was also given to Adam alone. Even though Eve is the one deceived into eating, it is Adam whose punishment is linked to it and who alone is named as the one excluded from the garden, and from eternal life, and who is later said to be the one through whom sin and death entered the world. So Adam obviously has some archetypal role for humankind, but no such representative role is indicated by scripture towards any other part of creation.
The fact that “he must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever” implies that humankind has no innate immortality, but only that granted by God. When I first heard this through John Walton and The Lost World of Genesis One, it came as a shock to me, but he is clearly correct; eternal life is a gift of God gained through communion with Him, not something Adam and Eve had naturally before their disobedience. Jon says:
This leads us to consider the case of the animals, which according to the “traditional view”, did not die before the fall. If this were the case, then either Adam would have been alone in needing to eat from the tree of life to avoid death (a strange situation for the one made in God’s image and likeness), or all the animals in the world also must have had access to the tree of life. This makes no sense whatsoever in material terms, if we are to imagine snow leopards, kiwis, jellyfish, and even earthworms migrating to Mesopotamia, on a regular basis, for their dose of life. Remember, that there was just one tree of life, in one garden small enough to be cultivated by a single human couple, in one small corner of the Near East. And for the animals to have incurred death after the fall, Adam’s exile would have had to apply to them too – something on which the text is as silent as it is about their implication in Adam’s sin.
There are no grounds whatsoever, then in Genesis 2-3, for suggesting that any other creature other than Adam and Eve ever had exemption from natural death, nor was threatened with death together with Adam, nor incurred the penalty along with him. Mortality was their natural state, as we shall see below. The New Testament goes along with this in speaking only of the resurrection of human beings to new life in the age to come. We therefore simply have no warrant from the Bible for suggesting that animal death came through the sin that condemned Adam to death.
Some try to say the curse on the snake – crawl on your belly, eat dust, lose your legs (which the passage never says the snake had legs) – is a “template” for widespread change in the entire animal kingdom. Jon says that is “sheer fantasy”, at the least, it is a bad case of eisegesis.
Next up for more eisegesis is Genesis 3:17-19:
17. To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
But all it actually says is that, for Adam, the productiveness of the ground will be cursed, and that by the greater vigor of the living order in the form of thorns, not that prior to the curse thorns didn’t exist. Also, the curse on the ground is said to be lifted, in Genesis 8:20-22, as part of the covenant with Noah:
20. Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
22. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”
The third passage used to say natural evil is the result of the fall is the creation ordinance of Genesis 1:29-30 in which humanity and animals are allocated vegetable food.
29. Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
Jon points out that even if we took this as precluding non-vegetarian animals at the creation, it would have nothing to say about the absence of animal death. Herbivores die from many causes other than being eaten by predators. Also, even if taken literally, the passage simply prescribes green vegetables for all flesh, it does not proscribe meat at all – once again, eisegesis much?
What about the post-flood permission to eat “everything that lives and moves”. Jon says:
Whatever the implications of the post-flood permission in Genesis 9, and indeed of the verse about vegetation in Genesis 1, we should note that it adds nothing to the case for an animal kingdom taking to bloody pursuits, because the later concession applies only to humankind, not animals. And even that happens not at the time of the fall but ten generations later. No description of any transition in the diet of the creatures, whether actual, permissive, or evil, is given in the text at all.
Finally, what about the argument that the repeated use of the phrase, “God saw that it was good” cannot be truthfully applied to things as they are now. Therefore, that means that before the fall things were much better, if not perfect, then they are now, and this necessarily means there was no death, no decay, and no suffering. Jon makes two points to this argument.
The first is that what God has created as good in his eyes may have no bearing whatsoever on what is good in our eyes.
The second is that the Hebrew word translated as “good” (tob) has a wide semantic range that may or may not carry moral connotations. As John Walton has pointed out in his Genesis books, “good” can mean “usefulness of function”, so that “God saw that it was good” can mean “God saw that all was functioning as he intended it should”. If “good” has this functional sense, rather than ethical significance, then there is nothing the makes it necessary for creation to have been profoundly reworked to account for appearances today. We cannot look around, fail to see perfection, and conclude that “goodness” has gone out of it. As Jon says, “it is fairly self-evident that any such conclusion must be fatally subjective.”
In the comments on the last post on, Is there Purpose in Biology, frequent commentator, Burro (Mule), quoted a passage from C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, a book about a man’s journey to a planet where the inhabitants never experienced a “fall”:
‘All the same,’ said Ransom, unconsciously nettled on behalf of his own
world, ‘Maleldil has let in the hnakra.’
‘Oh, but that is so different. I long to kill this hnakra as he also longs to kill me. I hope that my ship will be the first and I first in my ship with my
straight spear when the black jaws snap. And if he kills me, my people will mourn and my brothers will desire still more to kill him. But they will not wish that there were no hneraki; nor do I. How can I make you understand, when you do not understand the poets? The hnakra is our enemy, but he is
also our beloved. We feel in our hearts his joy as he looks down from the mountain of water in the north where he was born; we leap with him when he jumps the falls; and when winter comes, and the lake smokes higher than our heads, it is with his eyes that we see it and know that his roaming time is come. We hang images of him in our houses, and the sign of all the hrossa is a hnakra. In him the spirit of the valley lives; and our young play
at being hneraki as soon as they can splash in the shallows.’
Interestingly, Jon refers to Lewis’ book and says:
“C.S. Lewis was quite justified biblically in having his fictional hrossa hunt and kill the fierce hnakra in the unfallen world of Malacandra…” “No, only God can decide what constitutes the goodness of his world. And since he has not told us in Scripture that he has altered his ideas and changed things (either deliberately or by force of changed circumstances), then once again we simply have no justification for inventing a new universe out of thin air, or out of over-interpreted Bible verses, which amounts to the same thing.”