Jon Garvey - God's Good Earth - The Case for an Unfallen Creation

There have been some threads recently where @jongarvey has given some input on his argument that the current creation is unfallen and that death and suffering was not introduced into creation by Adam’s fall.
I have discussed with Jon doing a bit of a back and forth on his book and he has graciously agreed.

I include here a couple of excerpts from Jon’s introduction (unfortunately the Logos version doesn’t include page numbers)

BlockquoteMost Christians of course, even Creationists, the majority of the time don’t think about origins and get on with life and faith here and now. If someone gets ill, or there is a destructive hurricane, immediate divine judgement for individual or corporate sin will usually be discounted as the cause nowadays. But the catastrophic effects of sin on the whole natural order in general are often taken for granted by believers. “Natural evil,” including everything from man-eating tigers to tsunamis or asteroid collisions, is seen as the outworking of the cosmic effects of the fall of humanity…
I was rather astonished to realize, as I examined Scripture again, not so much that the effects of the fall on the natural world had been exaggerated, but that the “traditional view” in its entirety lacks any solid biblical support whatsoever
Garvey, J. (2019). God’s good earth: the case for an unfallen creation. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books.

The arguments from Jon’s book can be found in the following video which can be rented in Vimeo
Unfallen Creation: The Foundation for a Biblical Theology of Nature They have inaccurately attributed a Phd to Jon - he is MB BChir!

It would be good, before we start, to lay down some rules of engagement for people to agree to and adhere to if they want to participate and I will post at the top of the thread. If people have any others that they think will make this a good conversation then let me know

  1. This is not an opportunity to discuss science, YEC or the age of the earth in general
  2. The topic will be kept on track dealing with a chapter at a time, where people are willing to engage
  3. Preferably people should read the book or watch the video below if they want to engage, but I will try to give a summary of each chapter as we come to it for those who can’t
  4. Replies should focus on an issue at a time and not do a scatter-gun approach to response/criticism

I will be flagging/hiding comments that go off track or include too many topics in a response. Please don’t feel that this is suppressing comments, more just insuring that the conversation can be as productive as possible

Jon, have you got anything you would like to add before I kick off with Chapter 1?


No, your Honour. I’ll try to respond as intelligently as I can without a PhD!

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:smiley: - you will be answering more intelligently than I am posing the questions I am sure!

So I guess as a start off - a summary of chapter one would be useful.

From what I understand, your first chapter looks at a number of (related) issues pertaining to God’s providential control over nature.

At the beginning you discuss, for example, the notion of creation being used in the management of the world and cite passages such as Leviticus 26:3-39 where faithfulness to God’s commandments is linked to blessings such as rain, harvest / crop yield, safety from wild beasts etc. A lack of faithfulness removes these blessings and brings disease, famine, drought and other things in the natural order. You summarise that point with

A key doctrinal point can be made quite clearly from this: one reason for Yahweh’s creation of the natural order is so that it will be his instrument of government for the world, and especially for the human world that is the prime focus of his concern. The things in the world exist not, primarily, for their own sake, but in order to serve Yahweh’s governing purposes day by day

The blessings and curses demonstrate that everything in creation does, indeed, do God’s bidding quite willingly to achieve his ends. According to what he commands, the weather will either be beneficial and productive, or violent and destructive. The wild beasts will either withdraw harmlessly into uninhabited places, or act as marauders in town and villages, according to his purpose. The bacteria and parasites (if we may view things in that modern manner) will be harmless or will produce epidemics, just as he wills.

You make it quite clear throughout the chapter that God is in control of nature, and that it does his bidding and is therefore good. The negative impact of these things on humanity is something that reflects our relationship with God and not anything that says creation is somehow corrupted.

How do you see this playing out outside of the national context of ancient Israel. I take it you see God’s hand in the current pandemic and other issues around the world. Do you see these as being punishments against specific sins / people groups? These questions may be answered later in the book, but certainly come up as one of the first queries I had when reading this first chapter.

Then again, the rain falls on the just and unjust alike. How is this reconciled?

Largely what I was questioning just from the other side of the coin (positive / helpful providence versus my question about harmful).

If I had a point, it was that you can probably find a bible quote to support any position you care to take. God either uses the weather to punish the wicked, or he dispenses it impartially. Take your pick.

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Gotcha, I misunderstood you on that one. So to develop that point, are you suggesting we could equally well see the Coronavirus as impartially distributed, and therefore not an act of specific punishment?
I guess from the perspective of Jon’s book the key point here is that the weather, disease, famine etc are all under God’s control just as good crops, etc are. Whether we see it as impartially dolled out in some instances, or specific acts of punishments in others there is still the notion that it is good as it serves God’s purpose (assuming I understand him correctly)

You bet, though one could argue that it’s punishment for not wearing a mask, going to large outdoor or (especially) indoor events without social distancing, or being in an assisted living facility. Now of course if we consider God’s purposes as unknowable there’s no way to distinguish events unfolding according to God’s purposes from “shit happens”.

PS - the generic answer to the question of how much of what God does in governing the world is, I think, the introduction to theology 1.01 that someone I knew was given at seminary:

“There is a God, and you’re not Him.”


OK - I apparently have a broadband window, so I’ll try to reply.

The first thing to remember is that this chapter addresses the proposition: “The Bible teaches that nature fell with Adam” and argues a case that “the Bible teaches that nature remained under the control of God’s good purposes.”

In other words, the philosophical question of whether such control is real, and how it works out, is not the intention, though obviously interesting. The subject is the Bible’s actual teaching.

The way that the Bible seems to view God’s active control over nature is that it is a tool of his government, that it is one way that he directs the world, and especially the world of men, towards its proper ends. Government, even in human affairs, is not uni-dimensional, but it is real.

There are clear instances of events being tied to specific sins (for example, God’s sending a plague on Israel because of David’s census - forget the nature of the fault, because it’s the linkage that matters here). But it’s not a case of saying that one sin = 1 judgement, or even that there is only a single cause of things.

In many cases famines, for example, are mentioned without any moral connotation, as if they are “natural.” But they still have outcomes intended by God. And so Abraham ends up in Egypt, which was one of God’s intentions, though not his stated intention.

When events are more than that, God makes sure that people get word of their meaning from his prophets. Joseph, for example, comes to understand how the famine in Egypt has furthered God’s purpose for Israel. He was not concerned that it also furthered God’s unexplained intention to empower Pharaoh through Joseph, and probably many other things.

Now, Israel being in covenant relationship with God, the role of nature (and enemies too) in judgement was important for them to understand. It was important that they appreciate the covenant curses and blessings as real, and not simply vagaries of nature (they had no concept of nature as an independent “force”, remember).

An analogy: you see policemen around the streets, and assume (under normal circumstances) that it’s a sign local government is functioning normally. But if one flags you down or points a gun at you, you begin to be more personally interested in the cause.

But the bigger picture is that God governs for the outcomes he judges necessary. It is good, for example, if oppressive empires eventually fall. Whether or not anybody recognises God’s hand in it, the world is better off. Conversely, the rise of empires provides political stability that can bring good, as well as evil. Similarly with climate changes and other natural phenomena. To know that God is overseeing it is a completely different to knowing why God is doing it.

So by all means listen out for the authentic prophetic voice drawing parallels between current events and those promised or warned in Scripture. Big disasters usually have big spiritual causes.

But formulaic gleaning of God’s judgements from every adverse event that happens (or assuming his approval from blessings) is simplistic. The day to day maintenance of the world does indeed lead to regular events which may be studied, if not comprehensively understood, without reference to God. What that study doesn’t tell us is their meaning.


Guys - apologies for a failing broadband connection. I may not be able to reply properly for a day or two - carry on without me if so. Bad timing for careless workmen to mess up the cable…

Fully agreed on this.
A lot of the world’s suffering is arguably aggravated by humans. Famine through corrupt governments / incompetent governments and also a lack of care from the wider global community is an example.

Also agreed that without knowing God’s reasons then we are laregely if not totally left with an end point indistinguishable from such faecal statements as yours

Hi Jon, thanks for those clarifications.
So others know - there is a second component of Jon’s first chapter that looks at how scripture discusses creation. In other words - do we see the scripture talking about creation as somehow damaged. Jon points to passages such as Job 38-39 which praise God’s creation

“Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
and satisfy the hunger of the lions
40 when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in a thicket?
41 Who provides food for the raven
when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?
39 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
2 Do you count the months till they bear?
Do you know the time they give birth?
3 They crouch down and bring forth their young;
their labor pains are ended.
4 Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;
they leave and do not return.

     5      “Who let the wild donkey go free? 
     Who untied his ropes? 
     6      I gave him the wasteland as his home, 
     the salt flats as his habitat. 
     7      He laughs at the commotion in the town; 
     he does not hear a driver’s shout. 
     8      He ranges the hills for his pasture 
     and searches for any green thing. 
     9      “Will the wild ox consent to serve you? 
     Will he stay by your manger at night? 
     10      Can you hold him to the furrow with a harness? 
     Will he till the valleys behind you? 
     11      Will you rely on him for his great strength? 
     Will you leave your heavy work to him? 
     12      Can you trust him to bring in your grain 
     and gather it to your threshing floor? 

     13      “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, 
     but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork. 
     14      She lays her eggs on the ground 
     and lets them warm in the sand, 
     15      unmindful that a foot may crush them, 
     that some wild animal may trample them. 
     16      She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; 
     she cares not that her labor was in vain, 
     17      for God did not endow her with wisdom 
     or give her a share of good sense. 
     18      Yet when she spreads her feathers to run, 
     she laughs at horse and rider. 
     19      “Do you give the horse his strength 
     or clothe his neck with a flowing mane? 
     20      Do you make him leap like a locust, 
     striking terror with his proud snorting? 
     21      He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength, 
     and charges into the fray. 
     22      He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; 
     he does not shy away from the sword. 
     23      The quiver rattles against his side, 
     along with the flashing spear and lance. 
     24      In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground; 
     he cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds. 
     25      At the blast of the trumpet he snorts, ‘Aha!’ 
     He catches the scent of battle from afar, 
     the shout of commanders and the battle cry. 
     26      “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom 
     and spread his wings toward the south? 
     27      Does the eagle soar at your command 
     and build his nest on high? 
     28      He dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; 
     a rocky crag is his stronghold. 
     29      From there he seeks out his food; 
     his eyes detect it from afar. 
     30      His young ones feast on blood, 
     and where the slain are, there is he.” 

Summarising the passage about Jon writes

It seems hard to conceive how anyone could read this and still think that God considers his creatures to be corrupt in any way. He is equally enthusiastic about the carnivores whose prey he procures (lions, ravens, hawks, and eagles) as the herbivores (mountain goats, wild donkeys, wild oxen, ostriches, and horses). He delights in the quirky stupidity of his ostriches, and glories in the very untamability of his donkeys and wild oxen. His showcase example of a horse is, of all things, a warhorse.

So I guess a challenge to those that say that creation is fallen is that scripture, at least in places, praises the beauty and orderly nature of God’s creation

20 posts were split to a new topic: Biblical Ornithology

First, I will say that we see things very similarly…the thing that keeps hitting my brain is that even though Adam ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, it doesn’t mean that man actually knows what is good and what is evil in God’s perfect will. We try, but we fall short because we don’t know why or how God.

If the bible said he ate of the tree of the “knowledge of WHAT is good and WHAT is evil” that would be a different story. Knowing THAT something IS is different than knowing WHAT something is…

If I don’t lose my broadband again…

I was recently reviewing a book that’s very strong on the “anti-cosmic micro-monsters” in nature as a theological challenge. You can guess some of the the culprits. But this is always just so subjective. In the book I cite the researcher of tapeworms challenged in an interview about whether she was not revolted by these awful parasites. Genuinely upset, she said, “But they’re wonderful creatures.” Who gets to decide on emotional matters like “horror”?

A more recent example - and highly apposite in Darwinian terms - was a recent BBC live nature programme, in which the excellent Chris Packham described the wonders of the many different species of gall wasp, mostly parasitic on English oaks, and the fact that many of them are also either colonized by other species, or parasitized by Icheumonids. Some galls in this way support tens of different insect species. And Packham’s response was to glory in the wonderful inter-connectedness of the system (as an atheist, so far as I know). “Isn’t that just fabulous?” he asked millions of nature-loving viewers.

Darwin’s anti-theodical squeamishness about Ichneumonids, as far as I can see, arose from his inheritance of the same late-Christian “fallen creation” viewpoint that occupied Malthus, and became secularized as “struggle for existence.” Certainly, as Packham shows, his attitude was entirely subjective and unrelated to science (or biblical theology, come to that).

I definitely think that basing our ideas on modern western sentiments is, as you point out here and in your book, not an ideal standard. It is useful to see that there are dissenting voices about such sentiments even amongst those of us over here.
I will jump onto your next chapters later - hope the broadband holds up!

so moving on as swiftly as the ostrich doth run, so shall this thread move to the next chapter of Jon’s book.
I think that this one is likely to be more controversial than the last chapter as it deals with texts related to the fall. The first part looks at the garden of Eden narrative and the description of the curses.

I guess that a relatively uncontroversial point (for many christians) is that Adam is in some way a federal head of humanity. It is in him, in some way, that we have suffered the effect of the fall and die. What Jon points out is that this relationship is not expressed for the rest of creation. So while we die in Adam, the text does not say that other things do as well

So Adam certainly has some kind of archetypal role for humankind. But no such representative role is indicated for him, anywhere in Scripture, towards any other part of creation than humanity. Adam alone, and consequently Adam’s race, incurs the penalty of death for disobedience.

A more controversial point however pertains to the original state of humanity, as not inherently immortal but granted immortality through relationship with God.

The implication must be that humankind has no innate immortality, but only that granted by God, and in fact, assuming the tree of life to be at least partly metaphorical, eternal life is gained only in communion with God, the very thing broken by Adam’s disobedience. Humanity, then, was created mortal, but may overcome death through relationship with God. This leads us to consider the case of animals, which according to the “traditional view,” did not die before the fall.
If this were the case, then either Adam would have been alone in needing to eat from the tree of life to avoid death (a strange situation for the one made in God’s image and likeness), or all the animals in the world also must have had access to the tree of life.

If this conditional immortality (I don’t use the term in sense of the debate on the nature of hell, although I would argue that Jon’s view here does have implications there) applies to humans, for Jon there is no reason to assume that they were alone in being inherently mortal

I am going to pause at this point as I think that this issue is large enough for focus.

@jongarvey - your views of the tree being in some way metaphorical seems to make sense to me in the context of the description of the new Jerusalem in Revelation. What are some of the stronger objections you have encountered on this?

A post was merged into an existing topic: Biblical Ornithology

Given my developing views of an historical Eden, I’m probably happier with the idea of the tree as “sacramental” than “metaphorical,” but it depends how one views the genre of the text.

One way or the other, in broader Scriptural context the tree stands for the life of Christ. In Genesis, it could be a way of speaking of dwelling in the presence of God. Or it could be that the grace of God was mediated through a literal tree, as the grace of baptism is mediated through actual water, or the Eucharist through physical bread and wine.

I’m happy with either, and the only opposition I’ve come across to that mix of ideas would be from literalists who take the tree as having supernatural physical properties. And even most literalists have some concept of the spiritual!

As for the prophetic use of the tree-of-life motif in the rest of Scripture, and particularly in Revelation, one needs to make huge allowances for apocalyptic conventions, and also be very clearly christological in ones interpretation. “He is the true God, and eternal life.” And presumably he always was, even in the garden.

On the question of what you term “conditional immortality,” I think it’s worth pursuing the roots of the concept of an “eternal soul” in 2nd temple platonic influences on Judaism, and later in Aquinas’s philosophical considerations of rationality as immaterial, and therefore immortal.

In GGE, I simply took the text at face value: Adam would live forever if he stayed in the garden and accessed the tree - his expulsion prevents that.

Of course, one should add to that that having experienced if not eternal life, than the “savour” of it, Adam was no longer merely a creature of the persihable earth. That’s how I interpret the Ecclesiastes passage about God having put eternity in the heart of man. We hanker for eternity because of Eden, which is the root of human anguish over death.

The general resurrection works on either view, but better on mine: the dead rise at the judgement not because they’re made that way, but because God raises them up.

Incidentally N T Wright has a good discussion of the way the doctrine of resurrection developed in “The Resurrectioon of the Son of God.”