The Corruption and Redemption of Creation:
An Exegetical Study of Romans 8:19-22 in Light of Jewish Apocalyptic Literature

by Dr. Harry Alan Hahne

ThD Dissertation Abstract
University of Toronto (Wycliffe College), 1997

Romans 8:19-22 is the major passage expressing the apostle Paul's concepts of the present condition and the eschatological hope of the natural world. The passage says that the creation was corrupted and now suffers because of the Fall of humanity. Creation also longs for the eschatological glorification of the children of God, because at that time the natural world will be transformed to freedom and glory.

It has become a commonplace for New Testament scholars to claim that Paul's thought was strongly influenced by Jewish apocalyptic thought. The apocalyptic elements in the theology of Romans 8:19-22 have been acknowledged even by many scholars who do not accept the general premise that Paul's theology is rooted in Jewish apocalyptic thought. Although the genre of this passage is not an apocalypse, the worldview, the theology and many of the expressions are very similar to those found in Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic writings. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for many researchers simply to say that the passage is "apocalyptic" without clearly indicating what is meant by that term.

This study examines the views of the corruption and redemption of creation in several major Jewish apocalyptic works written between the third century B.C. and about 100 A.D. (1 Enoch, Jubilees, 2 Enoch, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch and the Apocalypse of Moses/Life of Adam and Eve). The function of the personification of the natural world in communicating the message about the corruption and redemption of creation is also explored. Following a detailed exegetical study of Romans 8:19-22, the view of the corruption and redemption of creation in this passage is compared to the approaches taken in the Jewish apocalyptic writings to determine the ways in which Paul's thought in this passage is similar to and different from Jewish apocalyptic theology.

The diversity of views in the Jewish apocalyptic writings shows that it is not enough simply to label the theology of Romans 8:19-22 as "apocalyptic." It is important to identify the particular type of apocalyptic thought closest to Paul's ideas. The Jewish apocalyptic materials represent several streams of thought, all of which are "apocalyptic" in perspective, despite their diversity. These ideological streams can be distinguished by their treatment of three key issues: (1) the corruption of creation in this age; (2) the cause of the corruption of creation; and (3) the future hope for the redemption of the material creation.

(1) There is a tension in many Jewish apocalyptic writings between the creation as under God's control and the creation as damaged by sin. Although a few writings stress the perfection and consistent operation of the natural world, the majority describe creation as corrupted due to sin. Even many writings that emphasize the normally consistent operation of the natural world indicate that at least parts of creation are corrupted or that creation is corrupted at specific times in history. Romans 8:19-22 follows that majority stream of Jewish apocalyptic writings that stresses that creation has been corrupted by sin.

(2) In Jewish apocalyptic writings creation may be corrupted due to the sins of the fallen Watchers, human sins, or both. Among those works that focus on human sins, the corruption may be either due to the Fall, ongoing human sins, or eschatological human sins. Romans 8:19-22 focuses on the decisive damage that the Fall of humanity brought to the created order, resulting in the enslavement of creation to corruption and futility.

(3) The majority of Jewish apocalyptic writings look forward to an eschatological redemption of creation. Some anticipate a new creation, while others expect the transformation of the present creation, either to its pre-Fall condition or to a perfect state that exceeds what it lost due to sin. Many works describe a temporary, earthly golden age with a perfected natural world. Romans 8:19-22 follows that stream of apocalyptic thought that looks forward to the permanent transformation of the existing creation, the removal of the damage caused by sin, and the perfection of creation to share the glory and freedom of the glorified children of God. Paul, however, does not describe the exact eschatological changes that the natural world will undergo, in contrast to the vivid descriptions found in many Jewish apocalyptic writings.