Thursday, October 2, 2008

Genesis 1:29-30

Another Scripture verse often cited by those who see the prelapsarian (i.e., pre-Fall) world as devoid of predators is Genesis 1:29-30. Ralph D. Winter, for example, has this to write,
Yet in the very first chapter of the Bible both the animal life and humans mentioned there are clearly described as non-carnivorous, meaning that they did not kill each other {Genesis 1:29}.
But the verses in question simply do not characterize the animals at all. Rather, they make a positive statement about God's being the One who provides for man and all the animals. In Genesis 1:29-30, there is absolutely no prohibition made, and only a modern desire to absolve God of the creation of predatory animals could lead to anyone's inferring such a prohibition. Here are the verses (from the ESV)...
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.
The context here is what is known as the dominion mandate. God is here telling man that he has both the privilege and responsibility of caring for the rest of the created order. It is likely that God is emphasizing the fact that green plants form the basis for the food chains of all land life. It may also be that God is emphasizing that all such plants are meant to be useful as food. (Genesis 1 is, of course, the most abbreviated of creation accounts; in the longer version that appears in chapter 2, there is a prohibition made--one not mentioned in chapter 1--when God says that Adam is not to eat of the fruit of one particular tree.)

Whatever God's revelatory intentions in Genesis 1:29-30, they do not include saying that carnivory was not a part of life up until that time. Such an understanding requires eisegesis--reading into the passage something that is not there.

Perhaps a similar example will clarify this. Let's say my family is going on a two-week vacation that happens to coincide with the week during which you will have moved out of your old home but are unable yet to move into your new one. We arrange that you willl stay at our house while we're gone. As we are leaving, my wife says, "We stocked the refrigerator for your sakes--make sure the kids know to help themselves." Do you take that as a prohibition against your eating the fruit in the basket on the kitchen table? Will you deliberately avoid the fresh-baked bread on the counter or the goodies stacked in the pantry? Of course not!

Using the Genesis 1 passage to build a doctrine denying animal death (at that stage of creation) is likewise logically untenable. And the motivation for doing such hermeneutical gymnastics is a modern misunderstanding about the beauty of the ecologies with which God has filled the land and seas ever since He first created life.

As serious students of God's revelation to us, we should at all costs avoid building doctrines around what amount to mere inferences on our part. This is especially true when the rest of His revelation to us--the remainder of Scripture and the evidence from nature--strongly asserts a contrary conclusion. God is indeed the Creator and Sustainer of all life--including the lion and the eagle--and He calls all that creation "very good." (So do I.)

No comments: