This is a question stemming from a discussion thread started last week with Max. We were discussing the problem of evil and a distinction was made between the origins of natural evil and those of moral evil, the former being, it was suggested, caused by an angelic Fall at some point in the pre-Edenic narrative, with the latter caused by the eating of the fruit of the tree. Part of the argument for this two-stage Fall centred around the Hebrew meaning of the word “subdue”, which Max suggested had rather violent connotations in the Hebrew, contributing towards the idea of Adam and Eve partnering with God to “subdue” a creation already suffering the effects of natural evil. I’m wondering if you could comment on this Hebrew word for subdue? Do you know what it is and whether it does indeed carry these violent connotations?
Part of the argument for a two-stage Fall centered around the Hebrew the word “subdue" natural evil, could you comment on this Hebrew word for subdue?
Good question. I’m sure Max could offer more insight into this concept as it isn’t my field and I haven’t spend much time on the word study of the Hebrew כבשׁ (pronounced ‘k-bas’). I would say though that as with most Hebrew word the semantic range is quite broad for this word. Max is right though that the word communicates a kind of action that requires force and communicates subjugation. It is often used to communicate taking control of something, even someone.
It would be exegetically warranted to say that at the least the creation needed ruling, cultivating and ‘gardening’ in order to make it habitable (made even clearer by God placing humanity in the garden of Eden, implying the rest of creation wasn’t a habitable garden). It would be fair to say the earth was chaotic or unruly, but the word “evil” implies some privation or aberration of what something was intended to be…and my hunch would be to say the creation was intended to be chaotic without the right rule of God’s image bearers fulfilling the cultural mandate.
That is partly why sin is so devastating to our whole world and the creation groans (Rom 8:22) for the glorification of God’s children so that we may properly exercise our role as God’s image bearers. While humanity is still affected by the presence of sin the creation won’t flourish under God’s image bearers subduing and cultivating that physical world.
So, I would be cautious of reading our whole current concept of “natural evil” into the narrative based on this one word, although it does suggest the entire creation wasn’t a utopia that naughty humans spoiled; it needed their rule as God’s image bearers to flourish!
If you want to dig deeper into the study of the Hebrew (my Hebrew is quite amateur) I would recommend Bruce Waltke, John Walton or Tremper Longman (some scholars I’m familiar with). For discussion on the Philosophical level William Lane Craig has addressed lots of questions surrounding natural evil and I’m sure Max could suggest some Philosophers for this topic (he may have written more on it himself, he is brilliant!)
I hope that gives a little clarity although I’m sure Max could comment further.
It is an incredibly interesting topic! I always enjoy digging further into the subject.
I’m so sorry to hear that there has been some strong push back. I’m surprised the idea of there being “no death” categorically before sin gets so much airtime as I’m not convinced the bible argues for this. Rom 5:12 isn’t as clear as some insist given that many commentators as far back as Aquinas believe this is not referring to death categorically but death in humanity. I’m inclined to agree with him on this point but open to good arguments either way! Of particular concern to me though is that people imply that humanity was created immortal. This is however quite evidently false since people needed access to the “tree of life” (Gen 3:22) in order to live forever…so it seems humanity always needing sustaining of some kind to remain alive.
I have seen similar things happen in other churches and the thing we must remember is that the unity of God’s body around the gospel is essential. Differences of opinion regarding particulars in Genesis is a very unfortunate thing to divide with Christian family over. It is good to make your case and back up your position as best you can according to scripture but Jesus cares so much more about how you treat your Christian family that that he even gives us a “new commandment” (John 13:34-35). The newness of the commandment isn’t that we are to love each other, that is the greatest commandment and has always been part of God’s law (Deut 6:1-4 & Lev 19:18). What is new about it is the to love “one another as I have loved you”. So the kind of love believers are to have for one another in the family of God isn’t to love your neighbour as yourself, but better than yourself! I pray you will keep showing gracious, gentle and patient love to your church family during this tough time!
May God’s grace and truth be at work in and through you!
Thank you so much for your reply. I’m just intrigued to pursue this line of thought because firstly, it’s unfamiliar to me, and secondly, because it appears to hold explanatory power regarding some of the more puzzling aspects of natural evil in this world.
We recently held a study of the first three chapters of Genesis in our church, during the course of which it was tentatively suggested that there may have been death within nature prior to the human act of disobedience. This suggestion caused a lot of kickback, to the extent that a small minority of people are now calling for a revision of the “core” beliefs for membership, a revision that would insist upon the traditional belief that all evil and death arose from that single fruit-eating act. It’s so sad to see people’s thinking become set in concrete, without even the willingness to engage in new possibilities. (A few cracks in the edifice of tradition might actually let in a bit of daylight!)
Your thought that “creation was intended to be chaotic without the right rule of God’s image bearers to fulfill the cultural mandate” was helpful and makes sense to me. Thank you for this additional thought. I will indeed seek out some of the references you gave. John Walton seems to be bobbing up to the surface in a lot of these discussions: I clearly need to do some summer reading!
Thanks again Jordan.