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Definition

A biblical theology of creation helps us to see the patterns of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation that are repeated throughout the creation story; though the chaos of sin leads to judgment, God will ultimately redeem and renew his creation.

Summary

To trace a biblical theology of creation, we must begin with God’s rule and intent in his creation. Though sin brings chaos into the creation order that ultimately leads to judgment, God is committed to redeeming his creation. Throughout the story of redemption, we see a series of “new creation” events following the judgments of the flood, the Tower of Babel, the exodus, and the exile. In the commission of Noah, the covenant with Abraham, the Mosaic law, and the promises of the new covenant, God begins his creative work anew. However, except for the new covenant, all of these new creation events are followed by another “fall.” In the new covenant, the decisive new creation begins with the person and work of Jesus. Though it is not yet complete, at the end of the age, God himself will make all things new and come again to dwell among his people in the new creation.

The Beginning

It is important to begin a biblical theology of creation with God’s original intent in his creative work. In Genesis 1, we see God forming and filling the creation, and at the end of his work, he pronounces that this ordered creation is “very good.” This very good creation is the place that God has always intended to dwell with his people. Contrary to some views of the created order, the creation itself is intrinsically good and should be regarded as such. In spite of the judgments that sin has brought on God’s creation, God is committed to making it new and redeeming a people who will live in it forever.

Moreover, while Christians may disagree about some of the details and timing of the creation week, all can agree that the biblical account of the creation week in Genesis 1 clearly teaches that God made all things and orders all things. As a result of this, he is sovereign over his creation. That is to say, he is in charge of his good creation.

Yet it is clear to us that something happened to mar this good creation. In Genesis 3, we discover that sin has entered the world through the rebellion of Adam and Eve. They were entrusted as the stewards of God’s good creation, but instead they turned away from him and sought to establish themselves as the true kings (Gen. 3:6-7).

Alongside of the consequences of sin that human beings personally experience, sin has cosmic effects. In Genesis 3, we learn that the creation itself is transformed by sin. The ground itself is cursed (Gen. 3:17). No longer do human beings have a harmonious and peaceful relationship with the creation. Instead, we have to fight with the ground in order to cultivate it.

However, God did not leave human beings without hope of redemption, and the creation itself shares that hope. Romans tells us that the creation itself “waits in eager expectation” for God to redeem his people, for when we are redeemed it too will be (Rom. 8:19). But right now, we are waiting for that hope to be fulfilled. As we wait, God has given us tastes of that new creation to come. He has revealed his plan to redeem the world through a series of “new creations,” and these new-creation type events are preparing us for the ultimate new creation yet to come.

The Flood

Adam and Eve were waiting for God to act to renew his creation, but in the generations that followed, the sin of the human race continued to increase. Instead of renewal, the creation was moving toward greater chaos as humans ran headlong into greater sin (Gen. 6:1). As a result, God looked at the chaos that sin had brought to his creation and condemned it to judgment. Through the waters of the flood, he judged the rebellious human beings and even the fallen creation itself.

But even in the chaos of that judgment, God remained committed to his creation. Almost all of humanity had turned against him, but one man was righteous in God’s eyes. God rescued that man, Noah, along with his family, through the waters of the flood. From these eight people, God’s creation began anew, and he pronounced the same blessing on Noah that he did on Adam and Eve (Gen. 9:7). Yet like Adam and Eve, Noah and his sons turned away from God. Again, God’s creation work was soon followed by the chaos of sin, and the rebellion of the human race continued unabated until the tower of Babel.

Abraham

At Babel, humans were again attempting to establish their own authority and power. They wanted to “make a name” for themselves (Gen. 11:4). Again, God came down to judge his people, this time by confusing their language so they could no longer communicate with each other clearly.

In the midst of this chaos, God again chose a single human through whom he would continue his commitment to the creation. The covenant with Abraham is a type of new creation in which God began anew, calling his people to remain faithful to him, and giving them a commission to fill the earth (Gen. 12:3). With the family of Abraham, we have another new creation. But as we observe the life of Abraham, his sons, and his grandsons, the corruption of the old creation remains. Abraham lied about his wife being his sister to preserve himself (Gen. 12:10–17). His son Isaac did something similar (Gen. 26:1–11). His grandson Jacob deceived his own father to get a greater inheritance (Gen. 27:1–29) and his great-grandsons sold their own brother into slavery (Gen. 37:18–36). Yet God did not abandon this new creation people, even when they ended up in the chaos of slavery in Egypt.

Exodus

After judgments of the flood and the Tower of Babel, God remained committed to his people and his creation. As we’ve seen, following these judgments, there is a kind of new creation; however, this is more evident in the exodus from Egypt. As God worked to bring the Hebrews, the descendants of Abraham, out of slavery, we see judgment on Egypt that brings chaos to that nation while the rescue of the Hebrews echoes God’s work in the creation itself.

Through the plagues he brought to Egypt, God was bringing judgment in the form of chaos. Instead of water being sent to its proper order, water is turning to blood (Exod. 7:17–18). Instead of animals coming to life, you have animals dying (Exod. 9:1–4). Rather than light appearing, the ninth plague shrouds the land in darkness (Exod. 10:21–22). And then, at the crossing of the Red Sea, the waters are divided so that dry land appears (Exod. 14:21) after a wind (Spirit) from God blew over the sea (Exod. 15:12).

The new creation language continues after Israel emerged from the Red Sea. The tabernacle that God commanded his people to build reminds us a little of the Garden of Eden. When it was finished, everything was done just as the LORD had commanded—just as the first creation was just had God had intended it to be. Some scholars even argue that the seven speeches in Exodus 25-31 point us back to the seven days of creation! Whether that is true or not, the imagery is pretty clear—when God called his people out of Egypt, he was pointing us back to the new creation, reminding us that he is bringing order out of chaos for the salvation of his people.1

However, the pattern of creation followed by a fall continues in the history of Israel. Shortly after emerging from the Red Sea, Israel came to Mount Sinai. While Moses met with God and received the law on the mountain, Israel again began to doubt God’s care for them, and wanted to create a god that they could see and manage for themselves. Once again, God’s “new creational” people failed to trust his care for them, and the result was judgment and chaos; the pattern of creation followed by fall continues.

This pattern continues throughout Israel’s history. God graciously brought them into the land he had promised (another kind of new creation), but they continued to turn away from him. While there were periods of more or less faithfulness, the overall trajectory of the nation’s history was away from the Lord and toward idolatry. And this pattern ultimately led to the judgment of the exile.

Exile and Return

If the exodus and settlement in the Promised Land is the clearest picture of new creation, then the judgment of exile is perhaps the clearest picture of the fall and its consequent chaos. For centuries, the prophets in Israel warned God’s people to turn away from their idolatry or else the Lord would send foreign invaders to conquer the land and take the people captive. In fact, before they even entered the land, Moses himself warned of exile for ongoing unfaithfulness (Deut. 28–30).

The prophets sometimes use language that seems to reverse the original creation when anticipating the judgment of the exile. For example, when envisioning the land after the exile, Jeremiah echoes Genesis 1:2 before God ordered the creation: “I looked on the land, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light” (Jer. 4:23). Yet the promise of restoration and return from exile points forward to a new creation. When Isaiah looked forward to the return from exile and the restoration of God’s people, he often used creation language (Isa. 40:28; 42:5; 43:15; 45:18; 57:19; 65:17; 66:18). In fact, the return from exile is nothing short of a new heaven and a new earth (Isa. 65:17).

The New Creation

As the people of God were waiting for God to act and decisively end the exile, they were in reality waiting for the new creation, when God would make all things new. However, when we come to the New Testament, something surprising happens. The new creation arrives in the person and work of Jesus, but the chaos of the fallen creation is still present with us. As with many other parts of God’s saving plan, the new creation is both already and not yet.

The greatest judgment for sin was found at the cross. There, the sin of God’s people was placed on the Messiah, Jesus, who suffered in their place (Isa. 53:6). Yet the decisive work of new creation began with the resurrection of Jesus. He is the firstborn from the dead, the beginning of God’s final new creation work (Col. 1:18). Though he is the firstborn from the dead, everyone who is united with him can look forward to sharing in his creation in the new creation  (1 Cor. 15:20–23).

The new creation is a way of talking about God’s new work in redemption. But with the coming of Christ, it is not simply a step toward the promised new creation. The new creation is in some sense already present. This is why Paul could write, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17, NIV). The work of Christ is the beginning of this new creation. Through his death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and present reign, Christ has brought the long-promised new creation into existence. We are truly living in the age of the new creation.

But when we look around at the world as we experience it now, it does not feel like we are living in the new creation. As we noted above, the Scriptures also teach us about the ongoing longing of the creation itself to be set free of its corruption. We look forward to the day when “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21, NIV).

The new creation has come, but the creation itself continues to wait with eager longing. Living in this overlap of the ages should affect the way we see creation both now and in the future. Now, we can remember that God has remained committed to his creation through many judgments, both of individuals and whole nations (and, in the flood, the entire world). We ought to remember that the created world is not an afterthought. God is committed to removing its “bondage to decay.”

Consequently, we ought to care for God’s good world and seek to steward it well, just as he commanded Adam and Eve so many years ago. God intends not only to redeem disembodied people, but also the world itself.  However, we should guard against an ecological idealism in which we equate the good work of environmentalism with gospel ministry or the idea that our creation care will somehow usher in the new heavens and the new earth. The restoration of the creation is ultimately God’s work alone.

The New Heavens and New Earth

In Revelation 21, John paints a picture of the final consummation of the new creation. Heaven comes to earth, and the dwelling place of God in heaven and the dwelling place of his people on earth become one. It is a total transformation of the universe. There is no threat of another fall, for every sorrow and pain will be removed (Rev. 21:4). All of the dangers and threats of the old creation will be wiped away, because no sinful things are admitted to this new creation (v. 8). The creation will once again reflect the glory of God and be full of beauty that all people can enjoy (vv. 22–26). Death itself will be finally defeated, and God’s resurrected people will live forever, enjoying his good creation.

But of all the glories of the new creation, the greatest is God’s very presence among his people (vv. 3, 22–23). This very good creation is the place that God has always intended to dwell with his people. At the end of the story of redemption, God’s resurrected people will enjoy his presence once again to the fullest degree. The goal of God’s creation and new creation has always been the same: to glorify himself by providing a place where his people can enjoy him forever. And in the new creation, this goal will be accomplished for all of eternity.

Footnotes

1The previous two paragraphs are reliant on Chris Bruno, The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Words (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 37–38. 

Further Reading


This essay is part of the Concise Theology series. All views expressed in this essay are those of the author. This essay is freely available under Creative Commons License with Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA 3.0 US), allowing users to share it in other mediums/formats and adapt/translate the content as long as an attribution link, indication of changes, and the same Creative Commons License applies to that material. If you are interested in translating our content or are interested in joining our community of translators, please reach out to us.