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The parable of the cupboard and Genesis 1:29–30

Answering a common old earth claim


Published: 8 September 2020 (GMT+10)

If you find yourself in conversation with a relatively well-educated Christian believer who has taken a compromise position on Genesis (believing in an old earth, evolution, etc.), bringing up Genesis 1:29–30 is always a good idea. These verses demonstrate very clearly that, before the Fall, God had given only plants for food to both humans and animals. This, in turn, refutes the vast majority of compromise positions out there, since they mostly all seek to harmonize Scripture with secular views on origins. However, as we are all likely aware, the secular view of origins cannot be parted from the idea of millions of years of death and suffering, including carnivory, prior to the emergence of human beings.

And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. — Genesis 1:29–30

I have found with surprising regularity one simple response to the above from the compromise crowd: “These passages don’t say anything about disallowing meat.” And that is a true, but highly misleading statement, which succeeds only in ignoring the obvious intent of the passage.

A simple parable can perhaps elucidate this:

Imagine you are welcoming a guest couple into your home for a short stay. You take them to the kitchen and open a cupboard and say, “You can eat any of the canned goods here in the cupboard while you’re here.” What have you effectively done? You have allowed the eating of canned goods, while disallowing all other foods in the cupboard (without explicitly mentioning them). If you return home to find your guests have eaten all the cereal and candy bars, you will likely confront them. If they retort, “Well you didn’t say we couldn’t have this stuff,” you will undoubtedly not be impressed with their sarcastic and insincere response. Amazingly, this is exactly the type of response most old-earthers will provide when confronted with this passage of Scripture.

This alone would, or should, be enough. However, we have more than this to confirm this interpretation! Let’s briefly return to our parable. Imagine that your grocery situation changes after a few days, and you bring your guest back to the cupboard a second time. Now you say, “Just as before I gave you the canned goods, now you can have anything in the cupboard.” Would this not remove any smidgen of doubt about the intent behind your first statement to disallow certain items? It turns out God made a statement corresponding to this in Genesis 9 following the Flood:

Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Genesis 9:3-4

If, as the compromisers like to say, God “didn’t disallow” meat in Genesis 1, then why was it necessary for God to issue this allowance here? Why does God say, “ … as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything”? The old-earth view here entails that everything was already allowed from the beginning!

The next time you discuss this topic with an old earther or theistic evolutionist, try out this helpful parable to explain the relevance of Genesis 1:29–39 and Genesis 9:3–4 on the topic of pre-Fall death and carnivory.

Helpful Resources

The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover
Refuting Compromise, updated & expanded
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
Genetic Entropy
by Dr John Sanford
US $25.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Otto P.
Thank you Paul for your response! I appreciate your point, that the same thing in the same place seems pretty clear. It clearly shifts a burden of proof on the alternative explanation to show how on earth their meanings could be somehow different.
If I may expand on your cupboard parable, suppose you are visiting your friend and you were first told that you can use the canned goods, and then you are told that some of the neighbours are also using the canned goods.

When later you are given a permission to eat also the candybars, you are not told anything more about the neighbours. Right after that you meet some of the neighbours, and they happen to tell you how your friend lets them eat the candybars.

In this example you are not told when the permission to eat candybars was given to the neighbours, and there are several ways to understand this situation:
- perhaps they were given the permission when you were
- perhaps they were given permission before you were, but they were initially restricted to canned goods
- or perhaps they had the permission all along, but it simply wasn’t your friend’s intent to list all the agreements he had made with each of his neughbours. It was simply enough to clarify that some of the neighbours will be eating from the same stock of food.

I don’t see how this would be unreasonable, so I think this at the very least leaves some room for debate.

God bless!
Paul Price
In your new analogy, you have subtly changed the presentation such that the force of the point is lost. The Bible doesn't merely state that "the animals will also eat plants" like we find in your analogy with the neighbors. In exactly the same way that God indicated clearly that meat was not given for humans (without specifically mentioning meat, since the very concept of carnivory would have been unknown and anachronistic at the time of this statement), he also used the same means to say the same thing about animals. Verse 30 is a repetition of verse 29, expanding and clarifying the scope beyond humans to all things in which there is the breath of life (nephesh chayyah).

So in your analogy, we would have more correctly: "You may have any of the canned goods you like. I am also letting the neighbors take freely of any of the canned goods as well."
Otto P.
This is a strong argument as long as we are talking about human carnivory, but the argument against any animal carnivory whatsoever is weaker (not non-existent, but clearly weaker):
Gen. 9:3-4 is given for people, whereas animal carnivory is supposed to have started with the Fall.
In Gen. 3:14 there is a brief commentary on a change in animal diet, as the serpent is cursed and God declares it shall be eating dust. No mention of animal carnivory however.
On the other hand God himself claims to be the one who provides the pray for carnivores (Ps. 104:21-28; Job. 38:39-41), so it can’t be intrinsically evil.
Paul Price
You're saying that when God says humans are given (only) plants to eat in Gen 1:29-30, it's clear that they ate only plants. But when God said the same thing about animals in the same place, that was less clear? I'll leave it at that.

When the Bible talks about God providing prey for carnivores, that is clearly a description of God's actions in a post-Fall world, so why you would find those verses to be relevant here is a mystery to me.
Nick K.
God not only said it, but He also wrote it---with is own finger and IN STONE---that He made the world and all that is in it exactly isix DAYS.
So why would we doubt what God so solemly declared? Why would any Christian IMPLY that God LIED?!
Calling God a liar sounds like blasphemy to me.
Dianne W.
Curt V. believes that "to imply people didn't eat animals before the flood is wrong" and listed three reasons for it. Paul Price responded, " Did anybody eat meat before the Flood? I have no way of knowing, but probably! After all, animals were clearly eating each other at that time. But biblically, there's no question that God didn't issue an allowance for people to eat meat until after the Flood."

Firstly, Abel's keeping of sheep does not necessitate the use of their meat for food or their skins for clothing, even though God used sheep skins to cover Adam and Eve after they fell. Sheep could have been kept for sacrificial purposes, their milk (to make cheese and yogurt) and their wool (to spin into yarn to make clothing). Upon death, their skins could have been used for a variety of other purposes (such as making blankets and tents, etc.) and their tendons used for sewing the skins. Their fat would have been used for various purposes as well. They need not have eaten the meat.

Secondly, the article in no way implies that people were not eating meat before the Flood. Paul's response to Curt substantiates this. But God lifting the restriction against eating meat after the Flood strongly seems to imply that the RIGHTEOUS did not eat it until then. Both the unrighteous people and the animals perished in the flood because "the earth was filled with violence" and "all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth." (Gen. 6:11-12). I think these verses imply that the wicked were violent towards each other, killed one another, killed and ate animals, and maybe even practiced cannibalism. I think it not only implies that animals were eating each other, which we know occurred from the fossil record, as Paul pointed out, but were also attacking and eating people.
Curt V.
Yep, no death before the fall, and the first animal deaths likely was sacrificially used for coverings for Adam and Eve(Genesis 3:21). However to imply people didn't eat animals before the flood is wrong. #1 Abel was a keeper of sheep. After the fall it became necessary to work for food. #2 Abel offered the first of his flock and the Lord accepted it vs Cain who evidently ate the best of his fruit #3 The population was growing and people continued to need clothing(animal skins). Could be explained by people finding and using hides of dead animals, but not likely as meat eating animals destroy hides as they consume the flesh.
Paul Price
The Lord set an example himself by providing an animal skin for a covering. They could have theoretically kept the animals just for the skins and other such products, without eating the meat. Did anybody eat meat before the Flood? I have no way of knowing, but probably! After all, animals were clearly eating each other at that time. But biblically, there's no question that God didn't issue an allowance for people to eat meat until after the Flood.
Mark S.
The Gen 1:29,30 response from compromisers about "it doesn't specifically disallow meat..." bothered me for a while because of logic similar to Jason Lisle in his "Keeping Faith in an Age of Reason". It has, in part, "The argument from silence is the mistaken assumption that if something is not mentioned then it did not happen." (Which is why I didn't realllllly like the kitchen parable: one could invoke the argument from silence point...)
I really appreciated the Gen 9:3,4 reference: while I would (perhaps grudgingly :-) ) allow a "yeah, but..." to the kitchen parable itself, it, combined with having Gen 9:3,4 "in my back pocket" - makes, I think, for a good logical explanation.
Thank you Paul (and the rest of the CMI staff!) for sharing your God-given gifts!
Michael S.
I like to tell people that old earth creationism is a “toxic doctrine”
Just like toxins, the more you devour the greater the effect.
Meaning it causes believers to stumble and doubt Gods word and unbelievers to reject salvation altogether.
Courtney K.
I remember I was watching a nature documentary about a big cat chasing down and eating its prey. Looking back, the narrators made it sound exciting and upbeat, almost. But I remember feeling the opposite of excited. It didn't feel right. Now I think I know why. It's because it isn't right.
Joel E.
The analogy is straightforward and highlights the folly of trying to wriggle out of the plain meaning of the text. It reminds me of what we deal with in our high school, where we have a dress code. Students come to us and say, "But can we wear X? It doesn't say we can't!" We've learned to tell them that they must abide by what the dress code says and not by what it doesn't say. Goes to show you it's possible to lawyer your way out of any text, no matter how plainly it's written.
Victor B.
Thank you - love the simplicity and logically clear analogy and use of the two relevant verses informing each other
Adam I.
Thank you for this analogy. I’ve been familiar with the importance of these verses in this argument but have struggled coming up with a decent example. In discussions with my brother who has old-earth leanings I’ve tried using an analogy of parents giving their kids a list of what they can have for dinner and the kids going outside of that list. As parents we would not accept the excuse that the old-earthers give. It’s nice to see this article explain it in a slightly different way.
Stephen S.
I don't understand how this argument works against old-earther christian thought. How does it prove carnivory didn't exist among animals and spirit-less pre-humans? An old earther might paraphrase/interpret Genesis 1:1 this way.... "I give you, Adam, every green plant for food, because you are made in my image and are special, unlike the animals and human-like but spirit-less creatures I made to evolve eons before you, and that currently exist outside of this new enclave, the Garden (mixing in a bit of gap theory), and that kill and eat meat as they always have." If that is the view of (at least some) old-earth Christians, how does your argument have any effect against that kind of thought?

Best regards,
Paul Price
I presume you meant Genesis 1:29-30, not 1:1? You missed the point where God withheld meat as food from not only people, but animals as well, in Genesis 1.
King T.
Thank you for highlighting these simple verses! Just goes to show if one reads carefully just how the bible stands up to all kinds of philosophical assault!
@Kathy K: I feel just as perplexed about why theistic evolutionists ( or evolutionary creationists as they'd like to call themselves now! ) and long agers doggedly hang on to the big bang paradigm even when repeatedly shown the conflict with the biblical texts. So determined are they that they hideously contort the biblical text to fit in with their way of thinking and unfortunately many others then follow suit after the esteemed leaders....sigh.
Kathy K.
It seems to me a theistic evolutionist is worshipping two different gods - 1) the God of the Bible for salvation and 2) the god of their own mind’s creation, in order to believe how they were created, to even believe in the God of salvation.

Don’t atheists believe in long years? And if they do, why are theistic evolutionists siding with them? What are they telling us? - That the Word that created in the beginning (Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1-3, 14) isn’t the same one we call the Savior? If he clearly said he created all in 6 days, why would one want to believe man’s word over God’s word?

God made his word very clear in Genesis about how he created and how long it took. Instructions were clear on what we could eat.

The Genesis 6-day Creator is the same Christ who died on the cross for our unbelief- while we were still sinners. I say give him the glory and respect and reverence he deserves in the whole Word of God.
Michael B.
This was/is a great simple analogy to use to help pull down strongholds with the Truth of Scripture.
Thank you for the faithfulness of this ministry.
Your Brother in Christ,
Philippus S.
A person can never be called a Christian if the person believes in a old earth.
Paul Price
No, I don't agree. To be called a Christian, one must believe the Gospel. The age of the earth is not part of the Gospel. I would say, "A person can never be called a consistent Christian if they believe in an old earth."

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