Young-earth and Old-earth Views on the Impact of Adam’s Fall

My previous two posts surveyed the answers given by evangelicals to two questions: 1) did animal death exist before the fall of Adam and Eve?, and 2) what was the impact of Adam’s fall on the rest of Creation? This post will look more closely at two answers provided for the second question—namely, those given by young-earth creationists (YEC) and by old-earth creationists (OEC).40 questions creation evolution

Young-earth Creationists (YEC): Adam’s Fall Introduced Death and Corruption
When Adam was cursed, all Creation was cursed with him. This is the position universally held by YEC proponents. They perceive the original sin as producing three effects: all animals were placed under a curse, the environment became hostile, and humans were cursed with spiritual and physical death.

First, YEC advocates argue that the curse placed upon the serpent (Gen 3:14-15) was applied to all animals. Passages such as Rom 5, Rom 8, and 1 Cor 15 teach that Adam’s sin affected all Creation. This means that all creatures, prior to the Fall, were vegetarian (Gen 1:29-30). This would include animals that presently are predators or parasites. They contend that all predators were originally intended to be vegetarian.

Second, the environment became hostile, as illustrated by the biblical text with the introduction of thorns and thistles (Gen 3:18). Earlier YEC proponents, such as Whitcomb and Morris, equated the second law of thermodynamics with the Curse. The second law, or entropy, is the principle that all things run down or tend to disorder. In practical terms, this means that things left to themselves fall apart. However, evidences of entropy—such as rivers (Gen 2:10-14)—existed prior to the Fall, so the view has few advocates today. Current YEC proponents suggest a number of means by which the world became cruel and adversarial. Perhaps certain natural laws were altered or removed. Some imperfections could be the result of changes in habitat or behavior. Biological effects could be the result of genetic alterations (which might be a significant contributor to the declining life spans recorded in Gen 4). They also suggest that God created all life forms with latent mechanisms which kicked in when the Fall occurred.

The third effect of the Curse was that humans were subjected to death (Gen 2:17; 3:19). Adam and Eve, and all their descendants, are condemned to physically die. The evils of “death, disease, struggle for survival, poison, thorns, and carnivory” were the consequence of the original sin.

Old-earth Creationists (OEC): Adam’s Fall Changed the Nature of Death

OEC proponents generally challenge the YEC position with three criticisms. First, they argue that, concerning the Rom 5, Rom 8, and 1 Cor 15 passages, Paul teaches that Adam’s sin affected all humanity—not all creation. Second, some OEC adherents contend that YEC advocates fail to appreciate the eternal nature of God’s ultimate plan. However, the third and main critique OEC advocates make against the YEC position is that it seems to turn the Fall into a second creation. So, from the OEC perspective, what effect did the Fall have on Creation?

The first person affected by the curse was Satan (Gen 3:14-15). Though God addressed the serpent, he was directly speaking to the spirit who inhabited the snake—Lucifer. The language of humiliation is used: he would be forced to crawl, eat dust, and be crushed under foot. These are all signs of defeat and dishonor. The curse did not apply to the serpent or to animal life as a whole. Instead it applied to Satan. Nor does the biblical account teach that the snake lost it legs in the Fall. The snake was already legless. Rather, like the rainbow (Gen 9:12-16), a preexisting thing took on new significance.

Second, the curse affected Eve. She would experience increased pain in childbirth (“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” Gen 3:16a ESV. Incidentally, since her pain is said to be increased this indicates that pain was already present). In addition, her relationship to her husband would be distorted (Gen 3:16b).

The third person affected was Adam. He had been given the task of managing the earth. Now the task becomes difficult (Gen 3:17-19a). The text speaks of God cursing the ground. God does not address the ground directly, because it was not directly cursed. It was indirectly cursed in the sense that the man who was given stewardship over the earth had been cursed. Adam is sentenced to death (Gen 3:19b). God had warned that the penalty for disobedience was death (Gen 2:17), and now the punishment was meted out upon him and his posterity (Rom 5:12). OEC proponent David Snoke argues, “Animals do not have eternity in their hearts. Is it therefore a great evil if they die? The Bible does not say it is evil if the animals die; it says it is a great evil if people die like animals.” Adam is expelled from the Garden, and he no longer has it as his command center. The nature of the earth did not change, nor the task itself. What changed was Adam’s ability to perform the task. OEC proponents argue that the curse changed Adam.

The next post will focus on two additional views: those who hold to Adam’s fall as a cosmic-federal event, and those who hold to evolutionary creationism. (Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution)

This blog is cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

A Few Thoughts on “Selma” (Part 1)

Recently, several SEBTS faculty together watched the new movie “Selma.” We asked Walter Strickland, Special Advisor to the President for Diversity and Instructor of Theology, and Nathan Finn, Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Baptist Studies, to provide their shared yet unique perspectives. In this first post, Walter gives his thoughts. Come back next week for Nathan’s thoughts. 

My nerves had already gotten the best of me before arriving at the box office. As I responded “Selma” to the question, “What movie would you like to see tonight?” my anxieties were piled high as I anticipated experiencing the struggle that affords me the opportunity to write this very review. In addition, as a Christ-follower, I wondered how Hollywood film writers would portray the role of Christianity in such an important historical epoch. As an African American, I feared the exaggerated dramatization of black stereotypes. As an American, I hoped the Selma narrative would be carefully placed into the larger story of the 1960’s. With every passing scene I was able to let my guard down and develop a new respect for the ongoing journey toward civil rights.

Selma is a reliable and compelling account of a three month vignette of the larger civil rights movement. Since the basic framework of the historical account is depicted, I am not particularly interested in mulling over the amount of artistic license taken in the dialogues with Dr. King and President Lyndon B. Johnson, and between Coretta Scott King and Malcolm X, although it would be a fruitful study. My purpose is to draw our collective attention to the influence of the Christian faith in the Selma story, the “foot soldiers” of the movement, and the tensions between black civil rights organizations.

Christianity and the Movement

Selma wonderfully depicts the significance of the Christian faith among the participants of the movement. Secular historians and conservative Christians alike have a tendency to strip MLK and his followers of their Christian motivations and relegate them to being merely political figures. On the one hand, non-Christian historians tend to uphold King’s phenomenal humanitarian efforts as a sterling example of the power of the human spirit. On the other hand, conservative Christians discount the doctrinal fidelity of King’s faith because of its social and political orientation.

King once stated, “[In] the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher. This is my being and my heritage for I am also the son of a Baptist preacher, the grandson of a Baptist preacher and the great-grandson of a Baptist preacher.”[1] Selma masterfully captures King as a powerful orator whose powerful speeches were laced with biblical imagery and accented with a sermonic flair. King’s pastoral concern was exposed in an intimate encounter with Jimmy Lee Jackson’s grandfather as he reassured him that God grieved first when his grandson was murdered. In a vulnerable moment, King himself was shepherded by a dear friend, Ralph Abernathy, in a Selma jail cell.

The film demonstrated that King’s commitment to nonviolent methods was not a pragmatic application of a theory, but a commitment rooted in Christian love. Elsewhere, King declared, “Agape [love] is understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men. Biblical theologians would say it is the love of God working in the minds of men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. And when you come to love on this level you begin to love men not because they are likable, not because they do things that attract us, but because God loves them and here we love the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does.”[2]

The Foot Soldiers

Selma subtly, yet powerfully, captured the oft-unsung heroes of the civil rights movement, the foot soldiers. Foot soldiers were the students, homemakers, janitors and construction workers who faithfully marched and sat-in at the call of the celebrated leaders like MLK and Ralph Abernathy. Without the nameless masses that fought for justice, there would have been nobody for MLK to lead to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and no large demonstrations of solidarity – including the march from Selma to Montgomery.

Selma began to give us a window into the untold number of personal sacrifices made for the sake of racial justice by common everyday folk. This is captured in Annie Lee Cooper’s tireless pursuit of the ballot box before the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) came to town, and the stream of tears cried by Jimmy Lee Jackson’s mother on a lonely porch after the crowds dispersed. The bodily injuries sustained by the marchers on Bloody Sunday and the death clergy who heeded Dr. King’s clarion call to converge on Selma. My own grandparents sacrificed deeply on a black teacher’s salary to make the trip from Chicago to Washington to March with Dr. King 1963.

The burden of the foot soldier is seen especially in Coretta Scott King. Although she admits in the film that she wishes to do more, the reality is that every area of her life, like so many others, was affected by the movement. Large portions of her married life from 1955 to 1968 were lived at a distance, she lived under the constant threat of violence to her family and the lingering cloud of death haunted her daily. The film made clear that the reality of oppression was a grueling act that never came to an end. It was their lives.

Division in the Ranks

Lastly, Selma also captured the reality that the black community did not unanimously accept MLK’s methods of nonviolence. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began in 1960 as a student segment of the nonviolent movement under the encouragement and oversight of the SCLC. Whereas the SCLC was committed to nonviolence because of its theological convictions, it seems that SNCC espoused nonviolence because it was a proven political tactic. SNCC began to lose faith in nonviolent methods as they sustained more bruises, broken bones, attended a seemingly unending string memorial services and alternative voices like the more radical Malcolm X came onto the national scene.

By 1965, the year of the Selma campaign, SNCC was only a year away from appointing Black Power proponent Stokley Carmichael as chairman. Although SNCC was the only dissenting group depicted in Selma, other groups like the Congress on Racial Equality and the Nation of Islam grew weary of Dr. King’s belief in American ideals and his stalwart faith in the American people to do what is right.

In summary, Selma offers hope as we continue in the marathon for racial equality. The resources of the Christian faith are as available to us now as they were to those being attacked by dogs on Bloody Sunday. The film allows us to see how far we’ve come since 1965 and although progress may seem slow at times it is possible. Lastly, I’m encouraged by brave citizens “fighting” for their ideals. I walked into the theater nervous and I left nervous because like those in Selma, I need to be ready to stand for what I believe when the time comes, at great costs to myself and my family.

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[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Vol. 1. ed. Clayborne Carson, 1.

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Power of Nonviolence” in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., 13.