Redemption of Creation| Romans 8 and the Deliverance from “Futility
One of the most common beliefs in futurism is that at some point in the future, the “creation” ie. The trees, bugs, slugs and mosquitoes, will be “redeemed.” We will have better trees, better bugs, better rocks (??!!??), a better physical world. This was the claim of Joel McDurmon, and other formal debate opponents that I have encountered. We are, supposedly, looking for a better physical world.
Ostensible support for this view is claimed from Romans 8, where Paul says the “creation” was subjected to “futility” but longs for the coming deliverance from trees not being tall or green enough, or mosquitoes having to suck blood, or ???. The key to understanding this text however, can be (at least partially) found in the Greek word translated “futility,” the Greek word mataiotees. Whereas futurism says that futility refers to not being physically what we are intended to be, or the rocks not being what they are supposed to be– whatever that might conceivably be!!– a closer look at mataiotees reveals that physical deficiency is not the focus of the futility in Romans 8. To the contrary, moral failure, the failure to achieve a moral or spiritual goal is the focus and meaning of the futility in Romans 8. When we realize this, it changes everything!! Below is a discussion of mataiotees taken from the Logos Bible study program. Take a careful read and ponder the implications.
“Futility is best pictured in Greek mythology. Doomed to Tatarus (hell) forever, Sisyphus is given the endless task of trying to roll a huge stone up to the top of a mountain. But just when he gets within sight of the pinnacle, the weight of the stone pushes him and the stone all the way down to the bottom, where he begins again the futile attempt to push the stone to the top. Complete futility!
In the New Testament, especially in Paul’s writings, there are two Greek words that convey the idea of futility: kenōs and mataiotēs (in adjectival form, mataios). Kenōs was used by Paul to signify that which is “empty and hollow”—hence, pointless and futile. Mataiotēs was employed by Paul to signify that which is “vain and useless”—hence, ineffective and futile.
In Paul’s writings, kenōs expresses the emptiness of all that is not filled with spiritual substance. Nothing comes from this nothingness; it is futility. Paul also used kenōs to describe the hollow utterances spoken by Judaizers and Gnostics trying to entice the believers with philosophy (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:12) and empty deceit (Col. 2:8). In contrast, Paul claimed that his preaching was not futile, but purposeful and effective (1 Cor. 15:14). He made the same claim for his labor among the believers (1 Thess. 2:1).
Redemption of Creation, Futility and Ecclesiates
Paul’s use of the word mataiotēs was influenced by teachings in Ecclesiastes. In the Greek translation of Ecclesiastes (Eccl. 1:2, 14; 2:1, 11, 15, 17), the expression appears again and again in the refrain,” Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless,” mataios ton mataion, pantas estin mataiotēs (Eccl. 1:2). The idea of this phrase focuses on ideas like “meaninglessness” (niv), “emptiness” (neb), and “uselessness” (tev).
Nowhere in the New Testament is the kind of futility described in Ecclesiastes so characterized as in Romans 8:20: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope.” Note from DKP: Personally, I believe that Ecclesiastes is the foundational key to understanding the futility of Romans 8, and the authors of the article seem to agree. But, in spite of the fact that they see that mataiotees refers to moral failure, they then turn around – immediately below– and say that it must then refer to the entire physical creation!! Where does Paul change the discussion? Where does he change the definition?)
When Paul said that the creation was subjected to futility, he was focusing on the inability of creation to function as it was originally designed to do. But eventually, all creation will be liberated from mataiotēs by our Savior Jesus.
Paul also used mataiotēs to depict the “meaninglessness” that has its source in the thought-life of fallen human beings. Paul characterized the “thoughts of the wise” as being futile (1 Cor. 3:20), and he described the Gentiles as living “in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding,” because they are “excluded from the life of God” (Eph. 4:17–18, nasb). The ideas of the unregenerate produce a life of purposelessness and ineffectiveness. Salvation from “futility” comes from the indwelling Spirit of Christ in believers (Rom. 8:10–11, 26–27). Thank the Lord for the meaning and purpose which He alone brings to life. (Carpenter, E. E., & Comfort, P. W. (2000). In Holman treasury of Key Bible words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew words defined and explained. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers).
For more on Romans 8 see my book, Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory
DKP – I suggest that when we realize that the focus of Paul’s discussion in Romans 8 is the futility of man, the failure of man to be what God intended, then the unlocks Romans 8, and allows us to see that in Christ, we are no longer subject to our own failures. Through Christ, we do “achieve”- not because of our own goodness, but, because of His work! Praise God the redemption of creation has taken place!
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