By Samuel M. Frost, Th. M.
One of the more problematic passages for the Full Preterist (FP) is Romans 8.19-ff. The FP is under extreme stress to interpret this passage in light of their propositions that every shred of prophecy in the Christian Bible was fulfilled in 70 A.D., culminating in that horrible razing of the Herodian Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman military and its alliances. Although many passages in Scripture do speak directly to that event, not all of them do, and this one is one of them that doesn’t.
The passage in view is this: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (English Standard Version, ESV).
Based on a plain reading of the text, it appears to say what so many millions in the past and present have said: creation was subjected to a corruption by God with the purpose of bringing it into an even greater realization which will never again be subjected to corruption. That the people of God groan until this realization, the transformation of their bodies (resurrection of the dead), and that until such manifestation, they hope in what is not yet seen, but one day will be seen.
Pretty straightforward. Not so fast, says the FP. This “utopian” dream (as it is caricatured to mean) is a myth. The Bible never speaks about anything like this at all. It was invented and read into the Bible by false men and women with false, vain, fleshly hopes. Christianity and the foundations upon which was (and is) being built is false (a totally false hope). This passage was entirely fulfilled in 70 A.D.
So, how do they get there? How do they come up with such an extravagant claim that until recently no one ever announced? Well, it’s not easy. But, first, it has to do with the word, “creation” in the text. In fact, “the creation”, “the whole creation”, “firstfruits”, “redemption of the body”, and “we/us”. These terms have to be defined in such a way that is not normally understood.
The first line that an example of this type of argument (and I pick on Rick Cassidy, a FP) is that there is something fishy going on here. How can “the creation” itself “eagerly expect” something? That is, how can “rocks, trees, birds and worms” expect something? Sounds absurd, right? Well, no. In the Psalms, creation itself actively “reveals” the Glory of God (Romans 1.20,25). And, Cassidy points to these two verses. He takes 1.20 to mean “creation” itself, and 1.25 to mean “birds, beasts, and men” – created things; creation. Same word. The Greek word simply means, “creation, what is created, created order, creature (of living beings); act of creation” (UBS 4th Ed, Greek NT). Thus, man is “creation” or a “creature.” So is a mountain. So is a bird. In the Scripture, creation is not some lifeless thing. It is personified numerous times poetically so. Trees clap their hands. Stars sing. Cows worship. All of creation is sustained by, held together through, and brings glory to God. It’s not pantheism, or even panentheism. But, it is living in the sense that God sustains it by “the kol” – the Voice – Hebrew). His voice moves all things, holds all things, superintends all things. And, creation itself does reveal the Glory of God, and would so loudly and clearly to all – if it were not for one problem: Sin and Death, which has so marred the message of creation that even the Sun, Moon and Stars cannot convey their message so naturally infused in their being that God alone is God of all. Man has fallen. His sense of right and wrong have become seriously damaged.
Cassidy writes, however, “That is the usage by Paul in Romans 8…nothing more. We must always put ourselves into the language , culture , and time period of the writer and not impose common English word definitions that immediate (sic) strike our mind.” In other words, since Paul calls a convert a “new creation”, then new converts are called “creatures” or “creation” and, thus, other created things (creatures like birds, trees, and lions) cannot at all be understood here. Not good logic, for, as Cassidy has already noted, “creation” is understood in 1.20. Paul knows what it means, and what it can mean. He is not restricted to just one meaning, in other words.
Now, it is an interesting bit of language theory here. Cassidy is against “imposing” on the text anything foreign. And, that’s to be admired. If he is guilty of such, then shame on him for breaking his own rule. But, is there something necessarily wrong with first impressions? If I see a word and think immediately of its meaning, then commonality in that expression has occurred (I am not even going to begin on Augustine or Malebranche and de Magistro at this point). Did the sun have a different “impression” 2000 years ago? Was it not that big yellow ball up there? Were human brains wired differently? I digress. The point Cassidy wishes to set up at this point is plain: how millions upon millions of Christians, scholars and non-scholars alike have in the past and present understood this passage is based not upon Paul’s “time” and “culture”, but upon what immediately strikes their minds. And, sense we should not always rely on this fashion of defining terms, we are warranted to dive deeper into the text to discover what hardly anyone has ever discovered. And, always keep this in mind: we must dig deeper here to find another meaning than that which is ordinary because this passage MUST be interpreted to fit in with Full Preterism. Sure, we all do this with the Bible. The question is, how far, how deep and how much? If one comes out with an almost entirely if not opposite meaning from what so many others have commonly seen together from all walks of life past and present, then it makes ones attempt at least highly suspect. I mean, one can say, “everyone thinks Adam ate an apple, when the Bible does not say that” – and this can be easily shown, and we all have a chuckle (a keen logician would state, however, that it could have been an apple – we are not told either way)! But, to come up with Adam was never a real person, never ate anything, and no fall ever occurred, well, that’s a stretch.
Nonetheless, there is enough there in this text to ask questions. For Cassidy, “creation” or as some translations have it, “creature” can be spoken of man, a creature. Reasonable enough. Thus, “the creature” is eagerly expecting the manifestation of the sons of God. Man is expecting this.
Even further, Cassidy argues that it the new creation (Christians) that is “the creature” in 8.19. But, does this make sense? The new creation (Christian) is eagerly awaiting the manifestation of the sons of God (the new creation – Christians)? Well, he sort of changes his meaning. The creature is “referring to humans destined to be children of God.” But, in the verse he cites (II Corinthians 5.17) Paul already calls Christians, “new creations” and “sons of God”. They were not awaiting to be called sons of God, they already were. What the sons of God (or to be more gender-inclusive, children of God) were awaiting was the redemption of their bodies. The fact that they were awaiting meant that they had already had a hope for it, which qualifies them as sons of God. They were not sons-of-God-in-waiting, but waiting-sons-of-God. Huge difference.
Thus, the creation itself is waiting for the sons of God to be manifested in terms of resurrection/redemption of their bodies: resurrection of the dead. It wouldn’t make any sense any other way around.
Now, ever allowed to present his case, Cassidy thinks there is another reason in the text for suggesting something fishy. Paul wrote, “the whole creation” which may mean something different from “the creation” (or may not, logically speaking). “I saw the game.” “Really?” “Yes! The whole game!” Here, “the game” and “the whole game” are the same. One has an adjective, the other doesn’t. No big deal. Thus, it appears that based on the “the whole creation” and the phrase, “together with” implies two subjects here: the sons of God, and the creation – the whole creation “itself”. That is, the whole creation itself will participate in the manifestation of the sons of God, when the Spirit quickens even the mortal bodies that quickened the mortal body of Jesus in the tomb (8.11). When the sons of God are “glorified” (8.17) with Jesus (who is already glorified), after they have suffered with him. Suffering comes before glorification. Suffering with Jesus is something the FP doesn’t want to talk about much. It ruins their eschatology.
Cassidy’s more candid words now take on a bolder charge, thinking thus far he has made his case indubitably: “So…specifically…in context…Paul means… the whole saved human creation. There is no reason to think Paul is injecting a completely different subject with that one sentence (v22)…the restoration of the physical universal creation of Genesis. The KJV translators with a restored creation bias decided to use the words “the whole creation” instead of the equally accurate “every creature” and that impression has permeated all English readers. However that is not what Paul is discussing.” So, in 1611, at least, the bias KJV Greek scholars were so blind to Cassidy’s thinking (and Paul’s) that they completely, practically, rewrote the text. What this means is this: in order for Cassidy’s FP to work, you must think that this is, in fact, the case! Which, more or less, shows my point above. This kind of charge does not help an argument….it weakens it. However, why can’t Paul “introduce” a new subject matter wherever he wants? Is there some rule against that? I mean, how far away is “creature” from “creation” when it has already been attested by Cassidy that it can mean in other places, “creation”? The fact that Paul introduces it is due to the fact that “the creation itself” (an emphatic form in Greek) was marred by the sin of Adam and mankind in Adam. Here is some “Hebrew mind” for you: in Noah’s day God was not upset just about mankind, but by the LAND itself – IT itself had “become corrupt” (Genesis 6.11). Same word used here in our text (see Septuagint). The whole creation (typical in Second Temple Judaism) will come into the glorious renovation of the Sons of God.
Yet, there is one more point Cassidy thinks he has: Paul says, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (ESV). Does this not prove that Paul does not have in mind the creation, but created people, and that he is contrasting them with us/we in his own day? The created people, the whole creation, every creature (in Cassidy’s view, the Gentiles), are contrasted with The Jews who are in Christ. How does he get this? The word “firstfruits”. I’ll let him speak to this point in his own words: “Verse 23 represents the strongest argument that the passage is referring to the Gentiles and not the non-rational creation. The first part “Not only so” is a reference to the suffering of those mentioned in verse 22. The verse contrasts those mentioned in verse 22 to “we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit.” This might seem to be some obscure, unknown reference, but its meaning is quite clear from the rest of scripture.
There are a few things wrong here. Paul is not writing to Jews only. Paul was an Apostle to the Gentiles. There is no indication here at all that he is singling out “we” as “Jews only”. Although in other places, James, for example, calls his Jewish audience a “kind of firstfuits”, that does not mean Paul is using it in the same manner here. Secondly, and more plain, it is the “firstfruits of the Spirit.” This phrase is not at all talking about people who are called, “firstfruits”! It is, rather, those who have the Spirit’s firstfuits, the guarantee, the adoption of sons, “For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God” (8.16). The firstfuits of the Spirit is the “testimony” that we are sons of God. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (8.11). Two things here: the Spirit now “dwells” in the believer (the firstfruits of the Spirit), and will quicken the mortal bodies of believers (the harvest of the Spirit). From the first workings of the Spirit in the believer, we are being conformed to the image of the Son, through suffering and mortification of the desires of sin, resistance, patient enduring unto the quickening even of the body, glorification. From first to last, the Spirit of Jesus is at work, proclaiming liberty, setting us free, and, ultimately, bringing us into glory and honor at its highest peak, higher than even Adam in his pristine day.