Was God’s finished creation perfect?
Published: 16 April 2013 (GMT+10)
People who want to fit millions of years into the Bible have to accept death before Adam’s sin. Some do this by arguing that animal death isn’t inconsistent with a perfect creation, and others argue that the original creation wasn’t perfect. The latter do this by arguing that tov meod (very good) in Genesis 2 means only that creation was very well-suited to the purpose for which God created it, not absolute perfection.
But this doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The Bible clearly teaches that the days of Creation Week were normal length days,1 the chronogenealogies2 of Genesis 5 and 113 plus other biblical data point to an age of about 6,000 years.4 And Jesus taught that God made man and woman “from the beginning of creation” not billions of years afterwards.5
Also, the rock layers which are said to be evidence of billions of years have fossils in them. Fossils are of course evidence of dead things—both humans and animals.6 But the Bible consistently teaches that death is the result of sin (Romans 5:12–21,7 6:23, 8:19–25,8 1 Corinthians 15:21–229).10 The Bible also teaches that humans and animals were created vegetarian (Genesis 1:29–30), and Isaiah 11 and 65 allude to this Edenic state of “no hurting or destroying”.11 But the fossil record shows carnivory,12 a curious blind spot of some old-earth apologists who try to combine their long-age dogma with original vegetarianism.13 From all this biblical teaching, the fossils must have been formed after Adam sinned, which means this ‘evidence’ of long ages is fallacious. The biblical explanation is the global Flood of Noah’s time.
The second point is also part of a ‘big picture’. God is perfect, so He created things perfect; anything imperfect is due to sin, not to the way God made it originally. Indeed, God calls His creation “good” (Hebrew טוב tôv) seven times in Genesis 1, and seven is the biblical number of perfection. Furthermore, the seventh time, after God finished His creative work, He declared the finished product “very good” (Genesis 1:31, Hebrew מאד טוב tôv me’od). As will be shown, this is a strong indicator, especially with the explicit teachings above, that the world originally had no death or disease. This is enough to refute ideas of millions of years, because such views put the fossil record in this ‘very good’ world. This would entail that cancer and gout are ‘very good’.
The above biblical teaching is so clear that long agers have only two alternatives:
- Deny the biblical teaching altogether, such as the theistic evolutionists in BioLogos.14
- Claim a high view of Scripture, but try to explain it away, such as the progressive creationists like Hugh Ross. The rest of this article deals with his arguments, and is largely taken from chapter 6 of my book Refuting Compromise (2004, 2011), a refutation of Ross and long-age teachings.
“The creation was merely very good, not perfect”
Ross and his staff argue that “very good” really means only that it was perfect for what it was intended for, but not that there was no death or disease.15 Their outline gives some other examples of the phrase, and I’ve added the context of what it was describing in square brackets:
‘God’s very good creation does not mean that it is “perfect”. Most occurrences of this phrase (me’od tov) are translated as “very beautiful” or “very wonderful”—Genesis 24:16 [Rebekah’s beauty], Numbers 14:7 [the promised land], Judges 18:9 [land of Laish/Dan], 2 Samuel 11:2 [Bathsheba’s beauty], 1 Kings 1:6 [Adonijah’s handsomeness], Jeremiah 24:2,3 [figs].’16
But such a justification shows that he could benefit from elementary training in exegesis, e.g. that given in the book Exegetical Fallacies, by the evangelical New Testament scholar Dr D.A. Carson. Ross commits a classic case of a fallacy that Carson called:
Unwarranted adoption of an expanded semantic field. The fallacy in this instance lies in the supposition that the meaning of the word in a specific context is much broader than the context itself allows and may bring with it the word’s entire semantic range.17
I.e. the fact that the phrase “very good” can have these meanings in some contexts does not mean it can have these meanings in any context. Certainly, the phrase “very good” can be used of people and things in a fallen world.18 But the specific context of Genesis 1 shows what God meant by me’od tov. The ‘very good’ was the culmination of Creation Week, where God had already pronounced things ‘good’ six times. This is a clear indication of no principle of actual evil in what God had made.
There is a Hebrew word תמים (tāmîm) that’s usually translated ‘perfect’ or ‘without blemish’ (it’s in the plural form because the phrase is “perfect in his generations”). Ross makes a lot of the fact that this is not used to describe Creation, and he correctly points out that it is used of Noah. But this actually undercuts Ross, because it demonstrates that even tāmîm is used of fallen people, including one who later got drunk (Genesis 9:21). Rather, John Gill comments on Genesis 6:9:
… and perfect in his generations; not that he was perfectly holy, or free from sin, but was a partaker of the true grace of God; was sincere and upright in heart and life; lived an unblemished life and conversation, untainted with the gross corruptions of that age he lived in, which he escaped through the knowledge, grace, and fear of God; and therefore it is added, that he was holy, upright, and blameless “in his generations”: among the men of the several generations he lived in, as in the generation before the flood, which was very corrupt indeed, and which corruption was the cause of that; and in the generation after the flood: or “in his ages”, in the several stages of his life, in youth and in old age; he was throughout the whole course of his life a holy good man.
The singular form תם (tām) is also used of Job (Job 1:1), who was likewise not sinless. But the words refer to completeness and moral integrity, not sinless perfection, since we likewise know that Job confessed his own sinfulness. The word is actually also used of Jacob in Genesis 25:27. However, most Bible translators don’t seem to want to admit that he is described so favorably, and instead translate tām as ‘plain’ or ‘quiet’ instead of ‘perfect’.
So there is no reason that tamim would have been used instead of me’od tov to describe a sinless creation. Rather, tov me’od, as the culmination of many occurrences of tov, makes more sense when used to describe the goodness of God’s creation and the physical perfection of its completion.
No actual evil in the finished creation
Now it’s obvious that the creation didn’t stay good. But is this a detraction from God’s declaration? No. The point is that when God created moral beings, there was no actual evil. In fact, evil is not a ‘thing’ in itself, even though it is real. Rather, evil is the privation of some good that something ought to have, as Augustine pointed out. Murder is a removal of a good human life. Adultery is a privation of a good marriage. Good is fundamental and can exist in itself; evil cannot exist in itself. It is always a parasite on good. For example, a wound cannot exist without a body, and the very idea of a wound presupposes the concept of a healthy body. Blindness in a human is a physical evil, because humans are supposed to see (but oysters are not, so blindness is not an evil for oysters). Also, evil actions are done to achieve things like wealth, power and sexual gratification, which the evildoer finds ‘good’ (meaning ‘pleasing’). Evil things are not done as ends in themselves, but good things are. Now, since evil is not a thing, God did not create evil [although He does create calamity as He has a right to do, and this is the correct understanding of Isaiah 45:7].
Power of Contrary Choice
But God created both Adam and Eve, as well as the angels, with the power of contrary choice. This means that they had the power to make a choice contrary to their own nature. Even God does not have this power, for He cannot sin and go against His perfectly holy nature (Habakkuk 1:13, 1 John 1:5).
The power of contrary choice was a good, with no actual evil, but it meant that there was the possibility of evil. But, evidently, God saw that a greater good would come from it, in that the result would be creatures who genuinely love God freely. Actually, real love must be free—if I programmed my computer to flash ‘I love you’ on the screen, it would hardly be genuine love. But Adam’s misuse of this good resulted in actual evil befalling him and the rest of the material creation, over which he had dominion (Genesis 1:28).
Many commentators regard Ezekiel 28:11–19 as referring to the fall of the being we now call Satan (Hebrew for ‘adversary’).19 Evidently, Satan had also misused his power of contrary choice before Adam’s Fall, because he could control the snake as the instrument of temptation (Revelation 12:9). One possible interpretation of Revelation 12:4 is that a third of the angels joined in the rebellion20—they would have become the demons referred to in Scripture. But the fall of Satan and the demons was clearly not during the ‘very good’ Creation Week. Similarly, God blessed the 7th Day (Genesis 2:3). There was no hint of any sin or curse on this day. Therefore, Satan must have fallen after this. But this was still before the fall of man, the timing of which can be constrained, as will be explained.
Eve was deceived by the Serpent’s temptation, and in turn gave the forbidden fruit to Adam, who was not deceived, but still ate (1 Timothy 2:13–14). So when did this happen? Not too long, as can be deduced from the revealed history of the first humans. Adam and Eve were commanded to “fill the Earth” (Genesis 1:28), and by definition, before they fell, they must have been obedient. Further, they were created “very good”, which implies physically perfect bodies, which means that they would have been capable of conceiving immediately, at least within the first menstrual cycle. However, their first child (Cain) was conceived after the Fall, and was indisputably sinful.
Therefore, their Fall must have occurred a very short time, perhaps three to four weeks at most, after Creation Week. Corollary: we can also restrict the timing of Satan’s fall to the narrow window between the blessed 7th Day and the Fall of mankind.
As a result of his sin, Adam and his descendants acquired a sin nature (Romans 5:12 ff.), and lost the power of contrary choice. But in this case, it now meant that they could no longer go against their sin nature (Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 7:15–25). So people today don’t get their sin natures by sinning; they sin because of their sin nature.
The potentiality of evil, but not the actuality, is also illustrated by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the original creation, God knew evil in the same way as an oncologist knows about cancer—not by personal experience but by knowledge about it (in God’s case, by foreknowledge). But after Adam and Eve sinned, they knew evil in the same way as a cancer sufferer knows cancer—by sad personal experience.21
In the Eternal State, redeemed humanity will no longer have the potential for sin. So in this sense, the Eternal State, with the new creation of the new heavens and new earth, will be even better than Eden.
In summary, following Augustine:
Adam and Eve were created with the ability not to sin.
After the Fall, humans had no ability not to sin.
In the Eternal State, humans will have no ability to sin.
The “young” earth is actually a deduction from a number of biblical teachings, not a starting point. In particular, it follows from the biblical big picture that God created a perfect creation that fell because of sin. Without this “bad news”, the good news of the Gospel with the redemption from sin lacks any foundation, and dangles rootlessly in a vacuum.22
- Sarfati, J., The numbering pattern of Genesis, Journal of Creation 17(2):60–61, 2003; creation.com/numbering—after Steinmann, A., אחד as an ordinal number and the meaning of Genesis 1:5, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) 45(4):577–584, 2002. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J. Biblical chronogenealogies, J. Creation 17(3):14–18, December 2003, creation.com/chronogenealogies. Return to text.
- Freeman, T., The Genesis 5 and 11 fluidity question, J. Creation 19(2):83–90, 2005, creation.com/fluidity; Return to text.
- Cosner, L., How does the Bible teach 6,000 years? Creation 35(1):54–55, 2013; creation.com/6000-years. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Jesus on the age of the earth: Jesus believed in a young world, but leading theistic evolutionists say He is wrong, Creation 34(2):51–54, 2012; creation.com/jesus-age-earth. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The Fall: a cosmic catastrophe—Hugh Ross’s blunders on plant death in the Bible, J. Creation 19(3):62, 2005; creation.com/plant_death. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., Romans 5:12–21: Paul’s view of literal Adam, J. Creation 22(2):105–107, 2008; creation.com/romans5. Return to text.
- Smith, H., Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s Fall: an exegesis of Romans 8:19–23a, J. Creation 21(1):75–85, 2007; creation.com/romans8. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., Christ as the last Adam: Paul’s use of the Creation narrative in 1 Corinthians 15, J. Creation 23(3):70–75, 2009; creation.com/1-corinthians-15. Return to text.
- Cosner, L. and Bates, G., Did God create over billions of years? And why is it important? creation.com/billions, 6 October 2011. Return to text.
- Gurney, R.J.M., The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals, J. Creation 18(3):70–75, 2004; creation.com/carniv. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J. and Cosner, L., ‘Carnivorous’ dinosaurs had plant diet: And: More challenges to dino-to-bird dogma, creation.com/ veg-dinos, 27 January 2011. Return to text.
- See the discussion on Norman Geisler’s answer to the apostate Charles Templeton in Sarfati, J., Shame on Charisma! Leading Pentecostal magazine promotes Hugh Ross compromise and denigrates biblical creationists, creation.com/charisma, 29 May 2003. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., Evolutionary syncretism: a critique of Biologos, creation.com/biologos, 7 September 2010. Return to text.
- Ross, H., Rana, F., Samples, K., Harman, M. and Bontrager, K., Life and Death in Eden, The Biblical and scientific evidence for animal death before the Fall, audio cassette set, Reasons to Believe, 2001. Return to text.
- Scriptural outline to Life and Death in Eden (Ref. 18). Return to text.
- Carson, D.A., Exegetical Fallacies, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 2nd Ed., p. 60, 1996. Return to text.
- At least Ross isn’t as bad as some anticreationists, who claim, on the ‘authority’ of the ancient anti-Christian Kabbalist Nachmanides, that me’od tov really means ‘mostly good’. As this hasn’t even a smidgen of lexical support, and even Ross doesn’t make such an absurd claim, it need detain us no further. Return to text.
- MacArthur, J., The Battle for the Beginning, W Publishing Group, pp. 199–204, 2001. Return to text.
- MacArthur, Ref. 19, p. 203. Return to text.
- MacArthur, Ref. 19, p. 211. Return to text.
- Good news, creation.com/goodnews. Return to text.